Today I am starting a new series on how to study the Bible. I am often asked by women, “How do I ‘just’ study the Bible? Don’t I need a book, or a guide, or special training?” The answer is, “NO.” If you have the Holy Spirit, you can “just” study the Scriptures. But I know people usually want some guidelines. This series is my attempt to help women study the Scriptures on their own. Feel free to email me or post questions in the comment section!
I am not here to make you feel guilty. It is very popular today, especially among women’s ministries, to tell women that they must wake up extra early, spend 30-60 minutes in concentrated study, blah blah blah, and then God will bless them. That is not what this is about. I want you to know God more; the more you read God’s Word, the more you will want to study, because the more you get to know Him, the more time you will want to spend with Him. But if you “only” have five minutes today, start there. But start well, with the right tools, and by studying the actual Word of God, and not what someone else says about it or Him.
A few months ago there was a spirited debate on a friend’s Facebook page about women’s Bible studies. I ultimately said that I believe women don’t need to read someone else’s words about the Bible, they just need to read the Bible for themselves. But then came the inevitable follow-up question:
How does a woman study the Bible for herself?
I am SO glad you asked!
This is going to be a multi-part series, posted on Tuesdays for the following few weeks (I am not sure how long it will be; that kind of depends on if/what type of questions I get). Today we are starting at the very beginning, though.
In order to study the Bible for yourself, first, you must choose your tools.
1) Choose a Bible translation.
Before you even pick up your Bible, or go buy one, you need to be aware of the different translations. Actually, you should know the difference between a translation and a paraphrase.
There are two types of English Bible translations: word-for-word, and thought-for-thought. Word-for-word translations are versions of Scripture that are just that: literal word for word translations from the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) into English. Thought-for-thought translations take “chunks” of Scripture and translate the overriding thoughts, not necessarily every single word.
A paraphrase, on the other hand, just tries to capture the general idea of a passage of Scripture, using the most modern language to do so.
This article describes why there are so many different translations. This article lists what the different translations are. This chart lays out a large number of the translations and paraphrases, their reading levels, their best uses, and a sample verse for comparison.
For studying purposes, I recommend in this order: New American Standard, ESV, and 1984 NIV. I don’t ever recommend a paraphrase (the Message, the Voice, the Passion, etc.). Paraphrases are often “written” by one author who imparts his (or her) own meaning into the text (eisegesis) and it is oftentimes completely wrong.
2) Choose an actual Bible.
I know these days it is common to just carry a phone or tablet and use the Bible app. But there is something valuable in turning the pages of an actual book, having a place to record notes or observations, and, frankly, having a Bible to possibly hand down to the next generation some day.
Choosing a physical Bible is a challenge. Exhibit A:
Okay, so I might have a *slight* problem when it comes to Bibles. And this picture represents roughly a third of the Bibles in our household. We have picture Bibles, storybook Bibles, children’s devotional Bibles, “my” Bibles, “Keith’s” Bibles, and these, my study Bibles.
Choosing a Bible is a very personal decision, believe it or not. Do you want one you can carry in your purse to read while you wait in the car? Do you want a Bible with study aids? Do you want maps? Do you want apologetics articles? Do you want cross-references? Do you have any idea what I am talking about?
You need to decide what you want in a Bible. I have a “go to church” Bible. Every other page is blank, and I use those blank pages for taking sermon notes (it’s from Zondervan, a 1984 NIV, and is out of print. Crossway is releasing an ESV in July in a similar format, marketed for preachers). I have my “seminary” Bible. This is an NASB I had to have for all of my theology classes. We were allowed to use our Bibles on all of our exams, so I took copious class notes in my Bible (cheating? the professor said it was okay…). I have my “teaching” Bible: this is a bright pink “locker” sized 1984 NIV that I can bend in half, hold in one hand, and teach out of (but the print is teeny-tiny).
At a recent conference I bought a Reformation Study Bible, partially because it’s an ESV (I didn’t have one yet), but mostly for the 2 inches of articles, maps, and “helps,” and it came with $400 worth of free software study downloads. I have an Archaeological Study Bible, purely for the articles and maps. I have a Life Application Study Bible for the small group applications.
I like fake leather Bibles (although real leather Bibles smell SO good, and remind me of the elders of my childhood church) and I like hardback Bibles if they will be primarily study-in-my-home Bibles.
So go to the bookstore (Christian or not) and browse the Bibles. Or if you’re not particularly touchy-feely, Amazon usually has the best prices. But know what helps you want, which is point #3.
3) Choose your Bible “helps.”
Every Bible has options, kind of like a new car. You can get wide margin Bibles, for taking notes in your Bible. You can get Bibles with or without cross-references (go for WITH). Cross-references are invaluable for study, and we will discuss them at a later time. But essentially you can read a verse, it piques your interest, and you look at the notes, either at the bottom, middle, or sides of your page, and it directs you to other verses on the same topic.
You can get Bibles with or without maps, and those maps can be minimalist or incredibly detailed and numerous. Maps are very useful for helping visualize where things happened, which assists in observing things in the text. Some Bibles have timelines, some have reading plans, some have articles sprinkled throughout. These articles can be anything from descriptions of important biblical people (Noah, Abraham, Peter, Paul, etc.), to current life topics (marriage, parenting, how to deal ethically in business), to theological topics (end times, prophecy, how to evangelize, detailed information about each book).
Once you have selected your translation and your Bible, I would go ahead and gather any other tools you need before you dive in.
4) Gather your “paper” tools.
You will want to make notes as you study. If you don’t want to write in your Bible, get a small notebook. If you want to keep your notes, invest in a nice journal. Get some good pens, colored pencils, highlighters. Get a few bookmarks for your Bible, and maybe some sticky notes. (and here is where I recommend against the current fad of Bible journaling. Okay, actually Jess at Beautiful Thing wrote the article, but her words are so perfect, I’m in total agreement.) Get your paper tools in order and keep them near your Bible.
5) Gather your “online” tools as well.
There are some great resources online. Blue Letter Bible is my current favorite website for Bible study. We are not to this point, yet, but when we get there, you’ll want to have it bookmarked on your favorite electronic device. They have an app, too! YouVersion is the Bible app I use on my phone; you can download dozens of translations, reading plans, and have a verse sent to you every day. You can connect with friends to do a study together. (I really like this text study group idea, as long as you’re studying the Word). You can even log on to church sermon notes and see what’s happening. Having access to a few online tools will prove helpful when you begin to dig deeper into God’s Word.
So there you have it, ladies! That is how you begin to study God’s Word on your own: choose a Bible translation, choose an actual Bible, choose your Bible “helps,” gather your paper tools, and gather your online tools.
I hope you are anxious to dive into studying God’s Word, and exploring for yourself how incredible it is when He speaks to you through it!