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 says rather than what you can make it mean.
  3. Do not "read" the Bible" by pulling out and dissecting isolated verses. Only one book -- 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, contain poetry. Others, like 1 and 2 Kings, are history. Titus is a letter to an individual. Romans is a letter to a church congregation. 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 of the type of literature you are reading as well as the phrases and sentences.
  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

Classic 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. The Bible is a collection of documents written by forty different authors over a period of 1500 years. Amazingly, there is a coherence of thought and unity of message that the Bible can feel like there is one author behind it all. Indeed, so much so that one Jewish scholar called the Old Testament "a love letter from God."

Someone recently asked, "Is it a sin NOT to read the Bible?"

The question may grow out of a misreading of Psalm 119:11. Here's how two other translations render that verse:

Both of those wordings make clear that the point of the verse is that the Bible is a guide to keep me from doing wrong things. "Sin" in this verse refers to running roughshod over God's design for life. It is not laser-focused on how often we read or do not read the Bible.

Actually, if the Bible is really a "love letter from God," why would Christ-followers not want to read and reread it?

"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 I use most often in my personal reading and study as well as in the pulpit when I preach.

It would be wrong to say the King James Version is inaccurate. That makes it sound like 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, the King James Version may not always clearly communicate God's message to native English speakers today, given that in the 400 years since it was translated, the English language has undergone many 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" (used in the KJV translation of James 3:2) have shifted in meaning. When the KJV says 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. The Bible books were originally written in common, everyday language. That's how it should sound when we read it today.

For these reasons, I encourage people who love the King James Version to also have a newer English translation (either in print or online using sites like and 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 ten 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 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,


Approaching Bible study the right way can enhance the understanding of its contents. Here are some attitudes that you will find helpful:

By approaching Bible study with these attitudes, you can cultivate a deeper appreciation for the text and its teachings. Through you study, you will grow spiritually and intellectually.

You might also like these