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How Can I Read the Bible and Understand It?

I learned that those who trust God find purpose and meaning for their lives.

how-do-i-read-the-bible-and-understand-it
Stephanie

The Bible is a big book and you may not know where to start as you attempt to meaningfully study it. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Make a plan that incorporates one or more of the approaches listed below and try it out. This way you can take it in bite-size pieces and start to understand what God would want you to understand. It takes work to learn of God; but that’s the point, right? We tend to value what we work for.

Each year I try to focus my studies of the Old and New Testaments with a different approach. Last year I read the New Testament like a novel. I learned that those who trust God find purpose and meaning for their lives. The believers in the stories of the Bible see the big picture and look to the real source of happiness. This year I’m not reading the Bible like a novel. Instead, I am searching for answers with specific questions in mind. In doing this, I’m already learning lessons that have helped me in many ways. I’ve come to understand God much better and develop more trust in Him. I am hopeful that I will gain an even deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as I continue my scripture study.

Methods for studying the Bible:

From cover to cover.

  • Start at the beginning and read as if it were a novel. Take notes and/or highlight as you go along.  Record impressions, thoughts, and plans for applying what you learn to your everyday life.

Chronologically.

  • The books of the Bible are not in chronological order. For example, the letters of Paul are ordered by length. Try reading the books in an order that may be closer to true chronological order. Also, read about the history of the time period. For example, read about King Darius while reading the book of Daniel, or study the history of Rome while reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament. This chronology might help.

By subject or question.

  • Read through with a question in mind. It may be something general (“How did each person featured overcome obstacles?”) or it may be more personal (“How can I forgive someone who hurt me?”). Find lessons in the stories you read.
  • Start with a question and search for answers. If your question is “Who is Jesus?”, search for “Jesus” in the Bible Dictionary or index. This may lead you to an account of what Jesus did in Matthew and Luke. Search for words that may be associated with your topic; in this case, try “Christ.” This may lead you to other interesting topics of study, such as other names and titles that have been given to Christ, leading you to Isaiah’s prophecies about Jesus. Good study leads you from one question to the next and can be really interesting.
  • Study to understand principles you believe in, but have a hard time explaining to others. For example, ask yourself, “What is faith?” or, “How should I pray?” Study until you can succinctly and successfully answer these questions.

By person.

  • Study a person’s life. For example, if you pick Peter, one of Jesus’ apostles in the New Testament, read the verses that talk about him and his life story. Pay attention to how Jesus responds to and treats him. Note how others treat him and how he treats others.

By word.

  • Learn the true meaning of one simple word, like hope, by looking in the index for all times the word is mentioned and see what each verse tells you about it.
  • Try to figure out the relationship between two words, like repentance and hope. How does one affect the other?
  • Pick a word that connects cause and effect, such as “therefore.” Make a grid and write the cause on the left side (what is written before “therefore”) and its matching effect on the right side (what is written after “therefore”). For example, in Genesis 42:21, Joseph’s brothers are in dire circumstances and need help. This causes them to remember the time they had done wrong to their brother and had not helped him. They say, “we saw the anguish of his soul . . . and we would not hear.” The effect: “therefore is this distress come upon us.” The word “therefore” in this verse connects the cause (doing wrong to their brother) with effect (distress).

Try one of the methods above and find one way you can incorporate what you’ve learned into something you do this week. What methods do you use for studying the Bible? Share your ideas here!

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  • acannon34

    So I’m late to the game here, but one study method I’ve enjoyed lately is related to your suggestion to study by person, only instead of beginning and ending with that person’s life, examine the downstream effects, short- and long-term, of that person’s life on individuals, whole groups of people, and how people talk about that person long after his life has ended.

    One brief example I recently wrote about was the appearance and teaching of Nehor in the Book of Mormon. He’s a remarkable figure, whose influence long outlasts the short 14 verses that describe who he is and what he does. Link here: http://mormoninminnesota.com/2013/09/28/that-there-might-not-be-more-sorrow-upon-all-the-face-of-the-earth/

    Thanks for these suggestions – I think they’re great!

  • http://www.understandingthebible.us Understanding the Bible made Practical Author Team

    Great points! To really get a grasp of the Bible, we’d recommend familiarizing yourself with some basic background knowledge, such as: biblical literature types (genres), Hebrew writing style, and the Ancient Near Eastern worldview. These are just some of the basic tools necessary to really get what’s happening behind the text. Our Understanding the Bible made Practical ebook includes everything you need to go deeper. It’s written in plain English for lay people, so it’s easy to follow. Check it out at: http://www.understandingthebible.us.
    Thanks!