How to study the Bible

Five Bible study principles

"Continue in what you have learned . . . You have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" -- 2 Timothy 3:14-15

  1. Be willing to spend time. Take Bible study seriously.
  2. Be honest with the Bible. Be willing to listen to what it actually says -- not what you can make it mean.
  3. Do not "read" the Bible" by pulling out and dissecting isolated verses. Only one book -- Proverbs -- is a collection of stand-alone sentences or slogans. Instead, really "read the Bible." Devour entire books or at least read large sections of the Bible. It was written to be read that way. Instead of reading a verse here and there, read the Bible.
  4. Approach the different parts of the Bible according to their literary types. Some, like the entire book of Psalms are poetry. Others, like 1 and 2 Kings, are history. Titus is a letter to an individual. Romans is a letter to an entire church. Parts of books like Genesis contain biographies of people's lives. Job's story plays out like a drama with various actors. Scholars consider books like Hebrews and some of the Old Testament prophetic books to have been sermons. Revelation is a look into the future and thus is a prophecy. So, as you study the Bible, be conscious not just of the words, but of the type of literature that you are reading.
  5. Put yourself in the shoes of the very first readers of each part of the Bible. Try to imagine, given what you know of those people's context and history, what they would have understood as they listened to the same passage you are reading.

"I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." -- Psalm 119:11

Commandments or rules on how to treat a printed Bible

Handling a Bible with reverence

My friend Steven Troutman shared with me this page from a Bible given to him by his parents when he was a small boy.

  1. I will read my Bible every day.
  2. I will study my Bible to learn its meaning.
  3. I will memorize choice portions from my Bible.
  4. I will obey the commandments in the Bible.
  5. I will show reverence for the Bible, for it is God's Holy Word.
  6. I will not place books or papers on the Bible.
  7. I will not use my Bible as a place to collect things.
  8. I will mark only important things in my Bible.
  9. I will handle my Bible with clean hands and turn its pages gently.
photo of page with
rules on it

My Bible Pledge

I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God's holy Word, and will make it a Lamp unto my feet, a Light unto my path, and hides its word in my heart, that I may not sin against God.

It's a book, not an idol

We do not treat the Bible as if it were Aladdin's lamp or a magic amulet, talisman, or fetish. That collection of writings written by forty different authors over a period of 1500 years is, however, as one Bible scholar said of the Old Testament books, "a love letter from God."

"My friends say the King James Version is 'inaccurate'"

Not long ago, a friend who uses the King James Version of the Bible wrote to me asking what she should say to friends who tell her the KJV is "inaccurate" Here is how I answered her:

I grew up when the King James Version was the dominant Bible translation for the English-speaking world. As a result, most of the Scripture verses I can quote by memory are from the KJV. However, the New International Version is now the English version that I read from most often in the pulpit and in my own reading and study.

It would be wrong to say the King James Version is inaccurate. That makes it sound like we believe there are significant mistakes in it. There are not. That translation was done by the best Bible scholars of that day. It is a masterpiece of literature. When read aloud, its passages sound majestic.

However, we need to recognize that King James Version may not communicate very well to the non-believer today, given that in the 400 years since it was translated, the English language has undergone a lot of changes.

Certain verb forms are no longer used (thinketh, hath, goest, and loveth are examples). Pronoun forms such as ye, thee, thou, and thy have disappeared. Some words, such as "gay" that is used in James, have shifted in meaning. When Jesus spoke of what was "meet" in Mark 6, He meant what was proper or fitting. Other words have disappeared from use while new ones have taken their place. Words like "bade" (ask or tell), "ere," and "dryshod," for instance, are no longer used by English speakers.

For this reason, I encourage people who love the King James Version to also have a newer English translation (either in print or online such as sites like to compare the wording when the meaning from the KJV is not clear or when you want to communicate with a non-believer.

My wife and I served as missionaries for 10 years in Italy and then for five years in Haiti. I have read the Bible all the way through not only in English but also in Italian, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish. I can testify that God has spoken to me through passages in each of those language translations of Scripture. There is something alive about the message of that collection of sacred documents we call the Bible.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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More Bible study resources

Text of 10 Commandments     Questions answered by the Old Testament    Why I believe the Bible is authoritative     Crossword puzzle: Three dozen women of the Bible     66 books of the Bible at a glance    Word search: Most mentioned names in the Bible     Introduction to Biblical Literature course materials