Why are we always looking for a Bible study guide? For example, we want to study a certain book of the Bible, so we must find a guide for it? There is a place for these. But it seems, for too many Christians, this is the only thing they know how to do! They must have someone else, in essence, hold their hand and take them through a book of the Bible. But at some point, Christians should move beyond having their hand held.
Why not study for yourself? To be clear, I am not advocating that it be only yourself and a Bible. We need “community” – whether direct or indirect. If an idea you have is wacky, you need the community of faith to show this to you. Indeed, much wackiness has come out of studying the Bible in isolation.
So what am I talking about? For years I would do these Bible study guides, and got little out of it. I’d finish one, and did not feel that I’d gained much of anything. I’ve noticed that many Christians (women in particular) utilize guides by certain popular Christian teachers, but Bible and theological knowledge still seems at an all time low. Discernment and critical thinking seems low too. What is going on? All this so-called Bible study does not seem to be translating into deeper understanding of the faith.
For myself, I realized that the “hand holding” must stop and I needed to get into the Scripture for myself. I grew tremendously by studying the Scripture on my own.
Guides can be different, and some better and worse than others. So I am certainly not dissing all Bible study guides. Okay? Newer believers may find them beneficial, and there is a time and place for them even with established believers. Repeat: I am not dissing all Bible study guides. For example, I appreciated Bible study guides by John Stott. His were different than many I encountered. His questions were designed to get you deeper into the text. As you went through answering questions, suddenly a light bulb would go off and the point of a passage became clear. He seemed gifted at helping you come to conclusions on your own through thoughtful questions.
But back to the idea of studying the Bible for yourself.
When do you usually learn more in life? When someone helps you step by step? Or when you have to do more of the work yourself? It is usually when you must put more of yourself into something, that more benefits come of it.
And there is the joy of discovery! Discovering something on your own, rather than having someone else tell you.
So, what do I mean by studying the Bible for yourself? What follows is a general description…
Every Christian should have a basic library of Christian books for Bible study purposes. See this post: A basic Christian home library.
Lets say you want to study Colossians. Well, begin by reading Colossians in your Bible. It is only 4 chapters, and can be read in about 10 minutes. This gives you an overview of the book. Then take advantage of a study Bible – read the intro to Colossians, and note any other “helps” provided. Look at a map – either in the back of your Bible or in a Bible atlas, and see where Colosse was located. All this is giving you a general familiarity with the book. And of course, don’t forget to pray that God will guide your study efforts.
Then begin to slowly read through Colossians. Slow down. Observe. Take note of adjectives and phrases. Ask questions of the text. Do you understand what you are reading? If not, why? Do try to reason through each passage on your own.
But you may need some help. That is okay! Is there a word you do not understand? See if it is defined in the back of your Bible or in a Bible dictionary. Read the study notes at the bottom of the page in your study Bible. Utilize a Bible commentary.
Not all commentaries are academic, and there are plenty written for every day people. See what the commentary has to say. This is where the “community of faith” comes into play. If an idea you have about a passage is wacky, this can get you back on track. You don’t want to repeat an interpretation mistake. In fact, even if you feel confident that you have understood a passage correctly, I’d still recommend looking at a commentary. Again, the community of faith.
In the past, I typically only used commentaries for reference. However, last year I read through several commentaries in their entirety. This was so beneficial. I read through Romans utilizing John Stott’s commentary, and his blend of academic and practical/pastoral thoughts was enlightening.
Another way to enhance your study is to look up cross references. A study Bible will usually have cross references – other Bible verses that relate to the verse.
Of course, all Bible study should lead to some personal life application. Is there an example to follow? A warning? A command? Etc.
As you go through a book this way, I really think you’ll encounter the Scripture in a fresh, new way for yourself. Give it a try. It could be a bit overwhelming at first, but I hope and pray you will “get hooked” and want to continue to delve into the Bible more independently.