How to study the Bible
A quick guide for beginners
First never go into the word of God 'knowing' anything. Go in with an open heart and open mind with all humility seeking not to confirm what you think you know but to find out what God is saying. The problem so many often have when the study the word is that they go into it only to find verses to support a doctrine that may or not be correct and in keeping with God's ways. This is almost always a mistake. Let God speak for himself and never put him in a doctrinal 'box' with ideas that are not firmly supported in scripture. God can do anything, except tell a lie.
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
However, let me distinguish between studying and reading the word. The two are different. Reading the word of God is the first thing that a Christian should do. Just read it. Go through the gospels, the letters of the apostles, then one should go into the Old Testament and understand how God dealt with his wayward people. This is most instructive not to follow the old Jewish Law as some maintain but to understand about God's character, loves, desires, dislikes and even hates. This is important because it gives invaluable insight into the ways of the living God. It teaches us not to take God's most gracious and loving gift of salvation for granted. It teaches that God is much more that a 'touchy feely' God who will not act when we repeatedly and willfully choose sin and evil. This is one aspect of God's character that is sorely lacking in today's Churches.
Studying God's word is a different matter all together. This entails using bible aids as well as using your brain coupled with large doses of common sense. Things one should have handy when studying God's word.
A good Bible dictionary with maps
A commentary that focuses on the historical background of the books of the Bible
A Topical index
These are the most important things you can have when studying the word of God. Now you can go out and spend a lot of money on these things but let me give all of you a word of advise. Many of the newer dictionaries, commentaries are not very good. In fact, I don't trust most of them. They tend to have 'agenda's' and are written by folks that do not seem to have a real love for or respect for the doctrines of pure, biblical Christianity. The best solution to these problems is to go to a used book store or thrift shop that sells books and hunt for older commentaries and dictionaries that were written before the 60's. Now please don't get me wrong, some of the newer ones are OK. I have a couple that were written later than the '60's and they are fine. If you go to a used bookstore you can often save a bundle of money on these items and if it turns out it wasn't what you wanted, you have not made a major investment. That is what I do. I do not like to spend a lot of money on books. I have a lot of books but find that the older ones are more informative and are less 'politically correct' than the ones that you buy today.
In the days before the Internet it was incumbent on all who really wanted to study God's word to have a good hard copy of these things in our personal libraries. Today the Internet makes these things nice but not necessary. One of the finest tools on the net today is the electronic bible. I use e-sword and find it to be more than I need. It is truly a Godsend. I can look up verses in a flash even if I only can remember parts of the verse (my mind just isn't quite as quick as it used to be!). I can do word studies by simply putting in a word and it will tell me every place that word shows up. I can have parallel Bibles and compare a passage in different versions. These are all very useful. One can learn an exceptional amount about doctrine by just doing word studies. If a one needs to look up a word in the original language, it is as easy as floating your mouse over the word. Simply put, the computer bible puts an enormous amount of power in the hands of the Bible Student and since the one I use (e-sword) is free, their is no excuse for not having it on your home computer. There are many bible versions to download, commentaries dictionaries study notes, etc. This one tool alone, makes so many of the books written in hard copies somewhat obsolete. If you use Mozilla's Firefox browser as I do, there is a great toolbar extension that will let you search the bible in any two versions without having to launch another piece of software.
Yet for those of us who already spend a great deal of time online (like me) a hard copy of commentaries and dictionaries is very nice to have as well. It saves the eyes when reading is what you are primarily doing.
Using these tools in this day and age is a true blessing. Say what you want about how 'evil' technology is, some of it is fantastic and can further the kingdom in ways a first century Christian would have a hard time believing. I really have to wonder how the people of God in these times are so Bible ignorant when they have so many tools to use to study and learn of the God who sent his son to save us. He did the hard part, can't we at least spend time studying and learning about him?
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
There is enormous controversy over which version people should use. Many believe that only the King James Version (KJV) is divinely inspired. Others believe that other versions are fine and do not like the KJV because of its arcane language. I will not tell any of you which version to read. But I will say that many of the new versions are not true to the original languages and there are more than a few that have omitted large passages of scripture because of recently discovered manuscripts of sometimes questionable origin. Know this is as well, there are people in the Bible business making millions of dollars and are not Christan and are not concerned about doctrine or the God of of the Bible. If you do not believe me find out who owns Zondervan, one the the premier Bible groups, find out who owns the publishing rights to the NIV. Then you can find out who is getting rich off of the NIV and Christian consumer products disguised as spiritual guidance. You will also understand why the leaders in the Christian Right movement pushes these products and the NIV so feverishly on their congregations. I hate to say it, but it is all part of the GOP political machine of right-wing religious corporations that call themselves Churches. See who the owners of Zondervan are and you get a pretty good idea of what I am saying. His name is a household word and no, he is not a Christian.
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
No, you guessed it, I do not like the NIV one little bit. I do like the King James, and the American Standard Version (ASV) There is also the Literal Translation Version (LITV) that is not too bad, all of these can be downloaded for free at e-sword. I am not familiar with the translator of this version nor have I done a detailed study of it, I am simply saying that I have found it useful in the past. So please don't write me telling the latest news, information and gossip on it. Let me say it again, I am not as dogmatic as many are about the KJV. I do think it is more honest than all of the others, even when errors creep in, they do not seem to have any pattern of doctrinal bias as with many of the newer translations. Thus, I stick pretty much with it.
God word is sacred. It should not be a commodity as it is with the newer versions. It should not be under the control of unbelievers. In order to know our God, we must know his word. The devil is working overtime to confuse and obfuscate the words of the Living God. He is doing an excellent job, as far as evil works are concerned. If you don't believe me, just look at the modern American church. If you listen very carefully, you will find that the devil has preached many a sermon in America's Churches and the the members of the congregation never realized it.
In Christ Jesus,
Mark S. Watson