1. Pray for understanding
Before you even begin to study, ask God to guide and show you His will. Remember that it is the Creator who gives true understanding through His Word. You cannot gain it on your own (Psalm 119:33-40; Proverbs 3:5-8; Jeremiah 9:23-24).
2. Keep an open mind
Be willing to admit when you are wrong and change, even if it means letting go of a long-held belief or tradition. If you can successfully apply this one principle, you will be far ahead in the search for spiritual truth (Acts 17:11; Isaiah 8:20).
3. Humbly seek instruction and correction
Approach the Bible with a teachable, humble attitude. The Word of God judges our innermost thoughts. It can show us who we really are. It can reveal every flaw in our character. So be ready to heed its correction (Jeremiah 10:23-24; Isaiah 66:1-5; Romans 8:6-9; Matthew 5:48).
4. Accept the inspiration of all the Bible
The entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God. When studying, keep in mind that He inspired the words you are reading; God is directly speaking to you through them (2 Peter 1:21; Philippians 2:5; John 6:63).
5. Plan time for regular study
It's easy to let everyday concerns interfere, so schedule study time and try to maintain it. Over time you will look forward to this daily experience (Ephesians 5:15-17).
6. Let the Bible interpret itself
If something seems confusing or even contradictory, let clear biblical passages shed light on those you find difficult to understand. Scriptures do not contradict each another; they complement each other. Also, to properly understand a verse in the Bible, don't force your personal point of view into it. Instead use the context and other relevant scriptures to find the correct meaning (2 Peter 1:20; John 10:35; John 17:17; Isaiah 28:9-10).
7. Study topics
Concentrate, at various times, on one subject, doctrine or book. Use a concordance or other study aid to put together all the scriptures relevant to a subject. This will allow you to see all that God has to say about a particular topic (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV). For help getting started, send for our free Bible Study Course.
8. Read the whole Bible
Go through the Bible from cover to cover. By reading every section of the Bible, you give yourself a broad familiarity and perspective that will help you shed preconceived ideas about doctrinal subjects. Our Bible Reading Program provides a convenient schedule for accomplishing this and other goals.
9. Compare different translations
The Bible was written in ancient languages, and scholars sometimes differ on how certain verses should be translated today. A literal rendering is often preferred, but a thought-for-thought translation or paraphrase is sometimes better at capturing the intent of ancient figures of speech. We must also be aware that doctrinal bias can influence translation. Comparing Bible versions will inform us on disagreements in translation and help us to sort through such issues.
10. Use study aids properly
Many Bible study aids are quite helpful. They can provide valuable historical background or point you to other scriptures that add clarity to what you are reading. Aids include concordances, lexicons, dictionaries, maps and commentaries. However, always keep in mind that such resources are not Scripture and can be wrong.
11. Seek guidance from God's Church
It is always best to seek help from qualified people in any field of study. God has commissioned His servants to guide people into a fuller understanding of His Word. If you have questions, feel free to contact us. We offer free publications and resources on a wide variety of biblical subjects (Proverbs 11:14; Nehemiah 8:8; Acts 8:30-31; Acts 18:26; Romans 10:14-15).
12. Take notes
Jot down notes and explanatory comments in your Bible, a notebook or computer. This will help you remember key ideas or related scriptures. Some people use a marking system, with colors or symbols, to keep track of key verses by categories (doctrine, correction, prophecy, etc.). This can help you save time when looking for a particular section of Scripture.
13. Review and meditate
Take time to ponder what you have been learning. If something seems hard to understand, take some time to consider its meaning, using what you have already learned as the starting point. Reflect on what the Bible is saying and on how you can apply the verses in everyday life (Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:97-99; Psalm 139:17-18).
14. Obey God's Word and prove it right
Put God's Word to the test by practicing the things you are learning. Acknowledge how His ways bring positive change in your life. The best way to determine that God's commands and teachings bring true peace and blessings is by living them (Psalm 111:10; 1 John 3:22; John 10:10; John 8:31-32; Malachi 3:10).
15. Hold fast
Once you have proven something to be true, don't allow yourself to be lightly convinced out of it. While new evidence may overturn your previous conclusion, this must be the product of serious study in God's Word. And always beware, because false teachers can lead you astray. Ask God to help you remain true to His teachings (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 2 Timothy 3:13-15; Colossians 1:22-23; Psalm 119:10-16).