After graduating high school in 2009, I took a year off to work at a local gym nearby. One day my coworker Fernando approached me in the break room as I read my pocket-sized New Testament Bible: “What you reading mang?” He said. Fernando was a middle aged, outspoken Hispanic man.
I closed the page and sat up in my chair. “The Bible,” I said. This was probably the first time I ever had a conversation about the Bible with someone outside of my family.
“Wow…. You read the Bible?” He said. “Some crazy stuff in there mang… Have you read through Revelations?” He stood at a distance with wide eyes as he waited for my answer.
“Yea man, I do. I just started reading it a few months ago. I want to read through the whole thing by December.” I responded. “And no, I haven’t read Revelations yet.”
“You should read Revelations…” he said. “Dragons and fire mang.”
“Ha ha…for real eh? I’ll see if give it a read soon.”
Our conversation went on a bit longer, but I don’t remember anything past that point. After all, it was 9 years ago. However, I do remember my first time reading through the Bible. I was fascinated by it. I understood it for the most part, but still lacked the proper tools and knowledge for effective Bible study.
I believe that’s the case with many people. Some don’t know where to start, like my friend Fernando for example. Revelations? I don’t think I would recommend it as a starting point. It’s a complicated book to understand, yet many people begin their Bible study there. I would recommend starting with one of Gospel books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Nevertheless, the scriptures for the most part present a simple message that everyone (including children) could understand, especially with some guidance and help from others who’ve been reading it for longer.
For that reason, I want to share some Bible study tips I learned from Chuck Swindoll’s book, Searching the scriptures: Finding the nourishment your soul needs.
I’ll give you the main points I retrieved from the book, but I recommend reading it for yourself to get a better understanding. Chuck provides us with a simple 4 step guideline of how we can make the most of our Bible study. But before we start, here are some of the benefits the book mentions about studying the Bible:
- We gain wisdom: The ability to see life the way God sees it.
- We gain insight: The ability to see through life’s circumstances
- We gain understanding: The ability to respond to life correctly.
That being said, let’s dive in!
The first thing you want to do when studying the Bible is observe what the scripture says. It’s about answering the question: what does this passage actually say? Don’t use your imagination or try to interpret at this stage. Read what’s before and after the passage you are focusing on to get a bit of context. But your main concern is to simply inspect the scripture with much attention and detail.
After you observe the scripture, you want to move on to interpretation. This answers the question: what does this passage of scripture mean? Each verse has a meaning especially in relation to the other verses in the passage. Knowing the audience being addressed and knowing the author and their reason for writing is crucial to interpretation. You should also get a grasp of the different genres found in the Bible:
Narrative: A narrative tells the story of an event that took place in the Bible.
Parables: This mean “to throw alongside.” It’s a story that Jesus uses to teach a lesson. Some people would call it “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”
Poetry: The words of songs such as the Psalms.
Proverbial: The wisdom of proverbs.
Prophesy: The message of God given through His people.
Correlation is comparing the scripture of study with other related scriptures. This will help you broaden your understanding to get a more accurate meaning of the passage.
Here are some tools that will help you with correlation:
Study Bible: Study Bibles usually have a cross reference section that provides related scriptures to the passage you are reading. They also include maps, sometimes commentary, quick facts and more.
Concordance: A concordance is an index that features words found in the Bible in an alphabetic order, so you can see other passages with that specific word.
Bible Dictionary: Bible dictionaries provide great information on meanings of words, background information about characters, places, etc.
Commentaries: Commentaries provide context and various perspectives on scripture based on the notes and commentary of theologians who’ve studied out the passage in detail.
All the observation, interpretation, and correlations amounts to mere knowledge if you don’t apply the scriptures to your life. Application leads to life change. When reading a scripture, it’s always good practice to ask the question: what is one thing that I could apply to my life today from this passage?
We honour God’s word when we take them seriously and live them out. Below, Isaiah reminds us that in the same way rain and snow water the Earth, making it bud and flourish, God’s word penetrates the human heart, transforming people from the inside out.
“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” – Isaiah 55:10-11