Read and remember
Q. Would you please share with me your thoughts about how to study the Bible?
A. The most important thing you can do is to read the Bible. I do not mean reading a verse or two, but reading a book of the Bible all the way through. Many people who want to study the Bible do not do this simple thing. Once you have read a Bible book several times through, you start to get an idea of what it is all about. Here are some verses on this point: 2 Chronicles 34:14-28; Nehemiah 8:l-18; Psalm 19:7-10; all of Psalm 119, but see for instance, verses 9-16; 1 Timothy 4:13; Revelation 1:l-3. These all show the importance of reading, meditating on, and remembering the Word of God.
The next step is to outline the book of the Bible you have read over and over again. Find the natural places where the author moves on to a new topic. In the historical books this is often indicated by a change of place or by the passage of time. In the prophetic books and the epistles, there will be indicators in the text, such as "This is what the Lord says," or "Now I want you to know, brothers" or "Finally." When you come across these "context markers," they will help you to break the text up into smaller pieces. Then, read each piece over and over until you can summarize in your ow words what that portion is about. Your summary might sound like this: "Jesus heals a lame man at a pool" or "Paul discusses the importance of living a pure life." Summarize each of the pieces of the book in a similar way.
Then divide each piece into its paragraphs. Your Bible should be able to help you here, for many Bibles divide the text into paragraphs, indenting the first line of each paragraph. You should be able to summarize each paragraph like you did the larger pieces. Try to figure out how the thoughts flow from one paragraph to the next.
Once you have done this for the entire book, you have a good idea.of what the book is all about, and how the ideas flow from beginning to end. Then you can use that overview to help you understand what any one or two verses mean. You can also look at other passages where the same concept occurs and let those verse inform your thinking about this passage. You are looking to understand how the verses harmonize and fill in meaning for one another. If you think they are in conflict with each other, chances are good that you have misunderstood one or both of them.
Then, you can compare your results with what the writers of commentaries have said about a passage. But it is much better to do you own work first before you consult the commentaries. Then you will be able to debate the writers and not just swallow everything they try to feed you. If you look at commentaries, it will not take you long to discover that some are better than others, and that some are written for expert scholars, while others are on a very simple level. Find the level that you need given where you are in your Bible study. Try to discern the strengths and weaknesses of the commentary writer. Do not just accept what they say because you suppose they are better informed than you are. Listen to their reasons, and see if they make sense to you. (Sometimes they will persuade you, and sometimes you will only become convinced never to use that commentary again.)
Finally, you should be able to summarize what you have learned about a passage by explaining it to someone in a way that they can understand. Give your reasons for the interpretations you have made and the conclusions you have reached. Also, let it be known that you are willing to study the passage some more and would be open to hearing another point of view.
Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com