Step 1: Get a Bible
Walk into Lifeway and you will be staggered and bewildered by row upon row of differing Bibles. Which one should you get? First, you need to decide which of over a dozen versions to purchase. Here is a simplified overview of the three types of Bibles:
Formal equivalence translations: these Bibles try to translate the original languages “word for word,” that is, each Greek or Hebrew word in the original manuscripts match one-to-one with an English word as far as possible. In general, these Bibles are the most accurate to the original manuscripts, and are the best to use when trying to understand exactly what the Scriptures say. The KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV are examples of this type of Bible.
Dynamic equivalence translations: these Bibles try to translate the original manuscripts “thought for thought” instead of “word for word”— so they will substitute or change words or phrases from the Hebrew & Greek to try to make the language more clear in English. This can make the Bible easier to read, but is also more subject to the translator’s own bias, theology, and/or agenda. The NIV, RSV, TNIV, HCSB, and NLT are examples of dynamic equivalence. Some of the versions, such as the NIV and HCSB, are fairly close to a “word for word” translation. However, some of the newer translations such as the TNIV and NLT have deliberately substituted “gender inclusive” language that basically tries to eliminate male pronouns wherever possible, even if they are specifically in the original manuscripts. Even more blatant & serious errors are made in “translations” made by non-Christians such as Mormons(JST) and Jehovah’s Witnesses(NWT).
Paraphrases: These are complete rewrites of the Bible in the author’s own words. The most popular are The Living Bible and The Message. These can be helpful to figure out what difficult wording may have been intended to mean or to obtain a fresh perspective on a familiar passage, but are not well-suited for in-depth study of the Scriptures.
So, which version? I’ve read completely through the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and Living Bible, and used several others, especially The Message, as well. The ESV is currently endorsed by leaders at Southwestern, Southern, and Dallas Theological Seminaries as well as many other pastors and professors and is my current favorite, but the NKJV and NASB will still serve you well for serious Bible study.
So, once you pick a version, you still have lots of choices as far as study helps. I have used the Open Bible, Thompson Chain Reference, Life Application, MacArthur, and Reformation study Bibles extensively in multiple translations, and my favorite after many years remains the MacArthur. It’s “bottom of the page” notations are consistently good, the cross-references are well done, and the maps, chapter introductions and other helps are all useful.
If you’re really going to be digging into a passage, an internet connection is invaluable nowadays. The website I have found most helpful for study is www.blueletterbible.org, followed by www.nextbible.org. To look closely at the Greek nothing tops www.zhubert.com.
Step 2: Pray
O, how often I forget this step, and in my hurry and in my arrogance read the Scriptures without asking the Holy Spirit to open my mind and heart. We truly can understand nothing of spiritual importance, no matter how diligent the study, without the Spirit’s guidance.
Step 3: Read the Bible
Ok, that was obvious, but that’s what you need to do. And then read it again. And again. It’s not uncommon to find something on the tenth time through that you completely miss the first time through. One prominent Christian blogger recommends twenty times to completely absorb the meaning of a passage.
Step 4: Start Asking Questions
Who wrote this? Who did they originally write it to, and why? What does this reveal about the nature of God? The nature of man? The nature of God’s plan of redemption? Why did the people act as they did? Did they respond to God in the right or the wrong way? How am I not thinking or acting in accordance with this passage?
Step 5: Start Making Connections
Draw, underline, circle, see how the passage explains itself and find out how it interlocks with the rest of the Bible. Write in your Bible! A lot!!! Remember, the text is sacred, but not the paper you hold in your hand, so mark it up. Internet Bibles can be a great help here as well. Where else is this Greek word for fear used in the Bible? Where’s the other place David talks about sin? Many nuggets of information that would take hours of research now only take seconds on the right website.
Step 6: Keep your seat in the chair until you understand the passage!
Ok, I stole that step from MacArthur, but it’s true. We often give up or stop digging far too soon, and we miss the gold that was waiting if we had just been a little more industrious.
Step 7: Write it Down
In your Bible, in a journal, but somewhere. Students of the Bible, students of God, record what He is teaching them. And pray what God has shown you back to God, in praise and confession.
Step 8: Make a Change
Write down at least one concrete thing that God has shown you that needs to change in your life, do it, and then write that down too. God calls us to be doers, not just hearers. of His Word.
Step 9: Share It!
Part of being the body of Christ is telling others what the Bible says. This can be a part of the daily rhythm within your family, to your spouse and children. With proper wisdom, you can also build up other believers and open doors to share the gospel with the lost as well.
A Microsoft Word copy of this study is available on the Downloads page.