Why do we need to study the Bible? And how should we go about it?
The Bible is a big book with a lot of valuable information and advice. It's filled with wisdom and insight for how to live life. But with its incredible amount of content, how can you expect to find what you need, when you need it? And more fundamentally, why do we need what it has to tell us?
A book that changes lives
A Christian in Arizona shared this story of how she came to be interested in the Bible:
"When I was 13 years old, I picked up my Bible and decided that I wanted to read it all the way through. My parents had always taken us to church when we were young, but by that time in my life church attendance was sporadic. We also never read much from the Old Testament, so I was curious what it had to say.
"As I painfully read through the older English used in the King James Version, I began to realize that the Old Testament had a lot to say about what should be done in life and also what was supposed to come in the future. I read about things that would last for all generations and also about God's plan for an unknown time in the future. It made little sense to me at the time, but the seeds were planted. Why had I not been taught these things, and why was this part of the Bible so often ignored?
"This reading brought up more questions than answers at the time, but I continued to learn bits and pieces as I read more, and in my mid-20s I was more able to comprehend what I had read. I finally began to understand the depth and meaning of what I was reading, and it changed my life forever."
Between the two covers of your Bible lies a matchless treasure trove of practical advice and straightforward instructions for living the best possible life you can now, while preparing for a wonderful life forever.
Why study Scripture?
Let's begin with a look at a few passages that talk about why it's important to study the Bible in the first place.
Does God appreciate those who search the Scriptures daily?
"These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts:17:11).
The Bereans, who lived in northern Greece, were commended for their diligent searching of the Scriptures until they found the truth of the matter. Reading the Bible through and studying the context are still excellent tools for gaining familiarity with this priceless book. A program of reading the Bible through is foundational in gaining an overview of God's revelation to us and will help make it easier to find specific things later.
What can we gain from studying the Bible?
"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" (2 Timothy:3:16-17).
God inspired the writing and compilation of the Bible to give us the spiritual instruction and correction we need to change and become more like He is. He does this for our good because He truly loves us!
What is the ultimate benefit of Bible study?
"From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy:3:15).
Salvation means being saved from the sinful way that leads to misery and ultimately death, and being given access to God's way that leads to true happiness and eternal life.
Navigating the Bible
Sometimes it's good to read through the books of the Bible in order, but sometimes you need to find answers to specific questions.
Yet to a new student of the Bible, it can seem to be a daunting, mammoth collection of print. So how can you effectively find your way through this sea of words to study a specific topic or find a particular verse?
Unlike ancient times—when, long before the invention of the printing press, owning a copy of even one of the books of the Bible was rare—today inexpensive and even free Bibles are readily available. And a great many resources—commonly known as "Bible helps"—are available to assist you in pinpointing exactly what you're searching for. We'll help you get started in learning what to use and when.
How to use concordances and other references
Let's consider some tools you can use to make your searches of Scripture faster and more effective.
I'm looking for a verse, but I don't remember where it is and can only remember a small phrase from it. What can I do?
A concordance is a good tool for this situation. It lists, in alphabetical order, the English words used in the Bible along with the verses they appear in. If you can remember a specific word from a verse you're trying to find, look up that word in a concordance, and you'll see a list of verses that contain the word.
If you're still having trouble finding the verse you're looking for, look up another word from the verse instead. Also keep in mind that a concordance typically lists the words found in only one specific translation of the Bible, and you may be thinking of the verse as it appears in a different translation.
Also, try to get a concordance that is not too abbreviated, since condensed concordances list fewer words. The best concordances are called "exhaustive" or "complete" concordances. Strong's and Young's are popular and helpful concordances.
I'm trying to study a specific topic in the Bible but don't have any verses in mind. How can I start?
One good way to do this is to look up related keywords in a concordance (see previous comments).
You can also find verses related to many topics with a topical Bible (sometimes called a topical concordance or topical index). Such a reference work contains an alphabetical list of topics (such as "Armageddon," "Melchizedek," "resurrection," etc.) and collections of verses that relate to them.
For example, if you were trying to find out what the Bible has to say about love, you'd simply turn to the section on "Love" and check out the verses that relate to love, even ones that don't include the word "love."
Many Bibles also list related scriptures in their side or center margins. It's good to remember that both topical Bibles and marginal references are selectively chosen by whoever published them, so they may have some doctrinal biases.
Nave's Topical Bible and Torrey's New Topical Textbook are popular choices in this type of resource. Another helpful resource is Where to Find It in the Bible? by Ken Anderson. (Computer searches are discussed later.)
I'm looking at a scripture, but I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out what it means. What can I do?
First, each time you read the Bible, pray for God's help to have spiritual understanding—the kind of comprehension Jesus gave His disciples after His resurrection (see Luke:24:45).
A critical key in Bible study is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. Studying the context of the verse and looking at other verses that talk about the same subject are the best places to start. Looking at how the verse is translated in other Bible versions can also be helpful.
You might also find it helpful to do a search about the subject or the verse on our website at www.GNmagazine.org . You'll find many articles and booklets containing a lot of background information and many related scriptures on a wide variety of subjects. Also check our Frequently Asked Bible Questions at www.ucg.org/bible-faq and our Bible study guides at www.freebiblestudyguides.org .
Our Good News online Bible Commentary also has explanations and background information on much of the Bible (currently, most of the Old Testament). The ministers on our Personal Correspondence team are also happy to answer Bible questions sent to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Bible reference books can also be useful. Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias can explain a given subject or what a word meant in Bible times. A commentary is a volume or series of volumes in which authors explain their interpretations of many scriptures.
It's important to remember that, while these references are written by well-educated people, they reflect the doctrinal and denominational biases of the authors and that various commentaries will often disagree with each other. Don't rely on a commentary as a final authority on any issue; rather, commentaries best serve as a starting point for finding possible explanations of a verse. From there you must be sure to carefully check that explanation against what the Bible itself says.
Some of these methods require reference books I don't have. Is there a quicker and less expensive way?
The Internet provides many resources that are free. Sites like BibleGateway.com and BlueLetterBible.org provide an easily accessible Bible in a huge variety of translations and languages, as well as the option to search for any word or even phrase within the selected version.
BlueLetterBible.org also features the ability to view the corresponding Greek or Hebrew words for each word in the site's online King James Version (click on "Show Strong's"). Biblegateway.com also includes online versions of Nave's Topical Bible and Torrey's New Topical Textbook.
Other options include free-to-use Bible programs such as e-Sword and Online Bible. Downloadable from www.e-sword.net , e-Sword allows Windows users to easily choose from and customize their personal copy of the program with a huge variety of Bible translations, commentaries, dictionaries, maps and various extras like Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews. (Many of these add-ons are free, though some must be purchased).
Windows and Mac users can download the free Online Bible software at OnlineBible.net . It also offers dozens of free downloadable public domain Bible versions and helps.
Many more software and online resources are listed in our free Bible study aid booklet How to Understand the Bible in the section on "Bible Study Software and Online Resources ."
Apply what you've learned now
With these resources at your fingertips, you now have the ability to find just about anything you need in the Bible. You are also well on your way to having effective Bible studies about whatever topics you'd like to delve into.
As an exercise for practicing what you just learned in this lesson, do a Bible study on how to please God. Using your Bible, concordance, topical index or Internet resources (such as doing a search on our website), dig up at least five scriptures on the subject. Then try to come up with five specific things you can do to please God.
Learn more about studying the Bible
How can you better understand the Bible? How can you get the most out of your Bible study? The publishers of The Good News have put together a helpful guide, How to Understand the Bible, packed with practical, useful tips on how you can develop a deeper understanding of God's Word.