FOR MANY CHRISTIANS studying the Bible is a duty. Duty has its place. It’s not always bad. Done right, it is an expression of love. However, the major motive should be Treasure. Bible study should be a Treasure hunt. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a man who found “treasure” in a field. Then he went and sold everything he had and bought that field (Matthew 13). What is the Treasure?
The Treasure is Christ. It is knowing him, loving him, serving him, and enjoying him. If this kind of “treasure” is not your motive for Bible study, ask God to change you. He is gracious and merciful. He will respond.
“Why are you studying the Bible? If you want to figure everything out, solve tricky theological puzzles, and generally become a Bible genius, you’re pointed in the wrong direction. The aim of Bible study is love—love for God through his son Jesus, and love for others made in God’s image. Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matt 22:35–40) If you’re not growing in love as a result of studying the Bible, you’re doing it wrong.”Higginbottom, Ryan, April 20, 2015, Knowable Word, http://www.knowableword.com/?s=don%27t+be+a+commentary+junkie
Luther told his theology students that they should treat the text of scripture like Moses’ did the rock in the wilderness. They should strike it, by faith, until it yields the water of life. We would be smart to do the same.
Time & Place
After the issue of motive is settled, the next issue is time and place. Early morning is the best time for 95% of us. There are exceptions, but they are rare and few. That means early rising, and the main obstacle to early rising is early bedding. Curtail your evening activities, and get to bed by at least 10 PM.
How long? You need at least 30 minutes of sustained, concentrated study. Less is generally a waste of time. Mini devotionals produce mini Christians, spiritual pygmies, useful for little. But sustained meditation on scripture shapes us into spiritual giants.
You also need a quiet place—one lacking interruptions. It doesn’t need to be fancy. For ten years, I used a root cellar in our basements, and it worked great.
“Most Christians neglect their Bibles not out of conscious disloyalty to Jesus, but because of failure to plan a time and place and method to read it.”John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God
Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” That especially applies to Bible study. Illumination is a gift from the Holy Spirit. It enables us to understand and apply the Bible.
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”1 Corinthians 2:12-13
An opening prayer might go something like this. “Father in heaven, based on your Son’s atoning work, send your Holy Spirit. I am in desperate need. I am going to open the Bible, but this is a spiritual book. Only spiritual people under the power of the Holy Spirit can understand it. So wise Believers pray, Help me, Lord Jesus. Amen!”
You also need some basic Bible study tools. I recommend The ESV Study Bible, the New Bible Dictionary, and a good one-volume Bible Commentary (The New Bible Commentary). There are many other good Bible dictionaries, commentaries, etc. But these are the ones I use. Add other tools later, but I think these are a good start.
Always move from the big picture to the details. Interpret each word in light of the verse, the verse in light of the paragraph, the paragraph in light of the section, the section in light of the book or letter, and the book or letter in light of the entire Bible. Always start with this question. What is the main point of this letter/section/paragraph?
Outlining a book of the Bible is a great way to get a solid grasp of the big picture. Start with a short book, say, Titus, then progress to longer and more difficult books.
What should you read? Many excellent programs take a disciple through the Bible in one year. Many find these helpful, but they have one weakness. Bible study tends to become a daily race to get through that day’s assigned reading, and personally, I don’t find that helpful. When God speaks, I want to feel free to stop and linger for as longs as necessary.
That is why I read a section of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, for example, then a section of the New Testament, maybe Paul’s letters. Then I return to a section of the Old Testament and vice versa. It may take five weeks to study the Pentateuch. That’s OK. I want to read entire sections in their context, not chopped up a chapter at a time. Again, I want the big picture.
Contrast and Compare
The Rule of Faith is the most important tool for correct biblical interpretation. It is simple and starts with this question: what does the rest of the Bible say about this verse or topic? For example, Exodus 34 says God is “slow to anger,” but Psalm 2 tells us that his “wrath is quickly kindled.” Which is it? What do these verses tell me about God? The result is an unwillingness to absolutize any one verse in scripture. So, always ask this question, where else does this concept appear in scripture, and what light does that other passage shed on that concept?
Last, perseverance is crucial. The Bible is a big book. It is about 750,000 words. By contrast, the average paperback is about 50,000. This means you will need a lifetime to really understand and apply it. It is hard work, but oh, the joy and peace that this labor brings the diligent reader. A man seeking treasure isn’t thinking about how hard he is digging. He is only thinking about the Treasure at the bottom of the hole. So it is with the faithful student of scripture. Treasure is our motivation.
“Blessed is the man who…delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1–3).Psalm 1:1-3