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Anytime you start something new, it can be overwhelming figuring out what to do, how to do it, and if there is even a right or wrong way to do something. We all feel that way when we’re beginners. To help you with that overwhelm, here are 7 awesome Bible study tips for beginners.
You don’t have to be a beginner to use or benefit from these tips – but they are especially helpful for beginners. But first, you need a clear understanding of what Bible study is and isn’t.
Every Christian should be in the Bible every day. But there are different ways of being in the Bible – and not all of them are Bible study.
What is Bible study?
First – devotions. I have devotions every day. But my devotional time is not my Bible study time. My devotional time is when I spend time in a small section of Scripture, preparing my heart and mind for the day ahead. It is when I meet with the Lord, spend time in prayer, and confess my sin. It is like sitting down with Jesus every morning with a cup of tea or coffee, discussing the day’s events, asking for His wisdom and guidance, and simply getting grounded for whatever comes your way.
Second – reading. Most evenings I spend time reading the Bible as I work on my ‘read through the Bible in a year’ plan. This is not when I’m looking at word meanings or digging into confusing passages. Instead, this is for getting a broad overview of the Bible. Generally, reading the Bible is most effective if you read at least 4 or 5 chapters – and sometimes as many as 8 or 10 or more.
Third – Bible study. That is the focus of this article. Bible study is planned, systematic, and deep. It is when you take the time to dig into word meanings, various translations, related passages, historical and cultural context, and more. Bible study is going deeper than either devotions or reading. For that reason, most people don’t do Bible study every day. Bible study takes longer and usually needs a solid block of time, such as an hour or more.
Tip #1: Make a Commitment
Bible study is just like anything else in life: you will make time for what matters most. And sometimes, you will want to say, “I’ll do it later.” Or “It’s not as important as getting the cupcakes for the school fundraiser.” Or even, “I’m just too tired and it’s too hard.”
I’m not saying these aren’t valid feelings and obligations. They (usually) are. You need to take care of your family. You need to get sufficient rest. You need to get to work on time. All these things matter.
You know the ‘usually’ comes in when SM scrolling on your phone or binge-watching anything or texting your friends about the latest gossip/news/problem. And you know, if you’re honest with yourself, that it’s often these things instead of your real obligations that keep you from time in God’s Word.
Which is where commitment comes in. Yes, you have to be the boss of yourself and your phone. You need to be able to say to yourself, “I plan to do Bible study on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 8 to 9:30 PM. And I won’t let myself be distracted by unimportant things.”
So when your 8-year-old is throwing up – skip Bible study. But when you want to catch the latest episode of your most recent obsession – keep your commitment to yourself and to the Lord.
Make the commitment. Put it on your calendar. Keep your commitment.
Tip #2: Make a plan
First, you make a commitment. Then you make a plan. Here are a few questions to consider as you make your plan:
- When and where will you do your Bible study? Be specific. What day or days? What time? For how long? Where will you sit? Write out all the specifics of when and where if it helps. Definitely put it on your calendar.
- What will you study? I think book studies are best, but they aren’t the only option. Maybe you want to study what the Bible says about how you talk. Or maybe you want to spend some time learning what the Word says about the Word. Maybe you want to do a study on Luke or a study of the parables or focus on what Jesus taught about prayer. Lots of options – pick one.
- Once you’ve decided what you’ll be studying, decide what you will need. You can always add more things as you go through your study, but at least gather the basics. At a minimum, you’ll probably want your Bible, a notebook, a pen (or several in different colors), and some resources for looking up specific word meanings, different translations, related passages, and so on. You can get all of these resources online at sites such as blueletterbible.org – which is why you might want your laptop to be one of your basic tools.
- Finally, who will you be accountable to? It’s easy to skip this in your plan. But when you make yourself accountable to someone else, you reap many benefits. First, you know someone is going to be checking up on you so binge-watching instead of studying is a lot less appealing. Second, you have a built-in audience to share what you’re learning. Third, as you share, you’ll benefit from discussing ideas, thoughts, and difficulties with someone else. And finally, you’ll be encouraging someone else to be faithful in studying the Bible as well.
Making a plan is probably the most important Bible study tip. Trust me – without a plan, you won’t be keeping your commitment very long. Ask me how I know!
Tip #3: Don’t get hung up on minor details
So, you’ve decided to study the Bible. You’ve made the commitment. You’ve got a plan. You’ve blocked out time on your calendar.
Things go along great for a while. But then you run into a passage that is confusing. In fact, you might even run into something that seems just plain wrong. What do you do?
- First – if whatever it is doesn’t impact major beliefs – such as Jesus is both fully God and fully man – don’t get all knotted up inside. On the other hand, if it does involve some core doctrine, that’s when your pastor should be on speed dial. Or someone else older in the faith whose wisdom you trust.
- Second – remind yourself that millions of people have been studying this book for centuries. And there are still some very smart people who disagree on the meaning of certain passages. This disagreement is not a reason for panic.
- Third – pray for wisdom and insight. Of course, you pray before you begin studying every session. But stop when you hit something that seems confusing and pray specifically about that passage.
- Fourth – make a note in your notebook about this issue. Note the verses, the questions you have, and your initial thoughts. Then move on to the next verses. This is what I mean by ‘don’t get hung up on minor details.’ It isn’t that these verses don’t matter. But rather, you can still learn from the passage without having total clarity about all verses.
- Fifth – set aside time to go back to the confusing passage to do a deeper dive. Use every resource you have – online tools, books, commentaries, and whatever else you have. Read what Bible scholars think of the passage. Most Bible study websites have at least a few commentaries available for free. Read all the ones you can. Send out emails or texts to trusted mentors or friends and ask for their interpretation. Do all the research you can.
Then go back to your notebook, record what you found, and write a sentence or two with your conclusion. Just so you know, sometimes that conclusion might be, “I’m still not sure what this verse means, but I do know it doesn’t affect my salvation or standing as a child of God. It doesn’t change my commitment to love, serve, and pray for others. So I’m just going to let it go for now.”
Do you need an example? Colossians 1:24 still stumps me. I’ve read lots of commentaries and done a book study on Colossians twice. But I’ve decided that fully understanding this verse is not necessary for me to live a life wholly committed to Jesus. I bounce back to it occasionally, but for the most part, this verse resides in the ‘figure it out later’ file in my mind.
Tip #4: Have a method for dealing with rabbit trails
Rabbit trails are my delight and my derailing!
What do I mean by rabbit trails? It’s when you’re studying verse by verse, learning, and understanding, and then you come to a verse that raises interesting questions. Maybe it’s when you get to Ephesians 6 and you wonder how spiritual warfare is described.
Maybe, you think, you should learn more about that. And so you head down a rabbit trail.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with studying what the Bible says about spiritual warfare – or any other topic. But if you head down that rabbit trail, you may never finish your study of Ephesians. And you were so close!
Or maybe it was in Ephesians 1 when you wondered what exactly are the spiritual blessings you have (v.3). Rabbit trail.
Again – spiritual blessings is a great topic to study. But you won’t finish Ephesians if you follow every rabbit trail. So you need a system for dealing with them.
Here are two suggestions: (1) in your regular Bible study notebook, when you come to a potential rabbit trail, make a note. Write it in a different color or highlight it in pink or green. Anything to set it apart. Or you could (2) have a separate list you keep of potential future studies you want to do. Jot down anything and everything you think you’d like to study as it comes up.
Once you finish your current study, go back over your notes, looking at that pink highlighting or reading over that long list of rabbit trails. Pray over what to study next. Choose one or two of these rabbit trails to follow before starting on another book study.
I like keeping a separate list of ideas for a few reasons:
- It’s in one place for all of my book studies. It’s easy to find and refer to and doesn’t involve going back through all my notes.
- I can keep adding to it no matter what I’m studying.
- I can see if I keep listing the same or similar topics. If so, I know that would be a great rabbit trail for me to pursue.
- I have a ready[made resource if I want to just do a quick word study instead of starting a new book study because I’ll be leaving for vacation in two weeks (or for any other reason).
- I can make a short note next to each item on my list when I study it with the date and the file name I gave those notes (because you know all my notes are on my computer!). If you use notebooks, you could just record the date and write, “blue flowery notebook” or whatever name you gave that notebook.
- Once you have done a few word or topic studies like this, when the topic comes up in another book study, you can take out that notebook and review what you’ve learned.
Tip #5: Remember how to eat an elephant
One bite at a time.
It’s easy to get discouraged about how much you don’t know. The Bible is big. It’s deep. Parts of it are hard to understand. It covers thousands of years of history. There is so much to learn!
Remember that everyone who studies the Bible, no matter how much they now know or how many books they’ve written or sermons preached or anything else, everyone started with the same task wondering how they’d ever understand it all (hint: no one understands it all!). Everyone started at the beginning.
Don’t be ashamed of how little you know or how confusing it all feels. Be proud of yourself that you’ve committed to Bible study and are following through. You won’t ever know it all. But every year, every month, you’ll know a little more.
Because you’re busy eating that elephant one bite at a time.
Tip #6: Focus on what the text is saying
I might step on some toes here and I’m not sorry. The point of Bible study is to understand what it says. Not how you feel about what it says. Not what it says ‘to you.’ Not even what it says according to your pastor or this or that author or speaker.
The point is to know what it actually says.
Yes, God wants you to apply His Word to your life and your circumstances. Yes, your feelings and thoughts matter. But the truth is – your life, your circumstances, your feelings, your thoughts – those things are all changeable and unreliable. But God’s Word is truth. It doesn’t change.
So you need to know what it says. Focus on what it says. Don’t add to it or spin it or say ‘that was then, this is now.’ Focus on learning what God’s Word says. Then, and only then, you can focus on what it means to you in your life. In your circumstances. In light of your feelings and thoughts.
Just remember that none of those things will change what the Bible says. It also helps to remember that if you have an issue with something plainly taught in the Bible (like faith in Jesus is the only way of salvation) then your problem isn’t with the Bible – it’s with God!
Tip #7: Bible study is not meant for knowledge alone
Yes, knowing what the Bible says is important. But that is not why you should study the Bible. The Bible was given to us so that we may be transformed into “the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29).
The classical approach to Bible study involves three steps. (1) Observation – which is ‘what does it say?’ That was covered in tip #6. (2) Interpretation – which is ‘what did this mean to the first recipients?’ That hasn’t been covered in this post. Basically, it is why we can read about hiding ‘under His wings’ (Psalm 91:4) and not conclude that God is a bird. Interpretation takes into account the culture of the time and place each book was written, figurative language, and how each book fits with all the others.
And then there is (3) application. If all you do in Bible study is observation and interpretation, you’re missing the entire point. God’s Word is meant to change you, to change me, and to change everyone who encounters it.
If you study Philippians and finish chapter 4 without making a plan for reminding yourself to pray every time you’re feeling anxious – you’re missing the point. If you study Micah 6 and don’t ask yourself what needs to change in your life so that you are ‘walking humbly with God’ – you’re missing the point. If you study Psalm 100 and aren’t moved to praise and worship – you’re missing the point.
It is absolutely possible to read the Bible, fast and pray, feel convicted, and still choose to remain unchanged. Transformation isn’t automatic – you have to put God’s Word into practice. — Wendy Speake
No matter where you are in your faith journey, I pray these 7 awesome bible study tips for beginners will encourage you to dig deep into God’s Word regularly. You’ll never regret time spent in God’s Word.