I apologize for the unannounced hiatus this little series has been on; over the next few weeks I hope to address my absence. I appreciate those of you who are sticking around to read what I have to say, and I truly hope my words help you grow in your knowledge of and love for God’s Word.
This is part four of a multi-part series for women on how to study the Bible on your own. You don’t need a book, a Bible study, or someone else’s opinion: you need a Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Part One: Choose Your Tools can be found here.
Part Two: Choose Your Scripture can be found here.
Part Three: Read! can be found here.
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.
You have chosen your Bible, you have your notebook and pens, you’ve decided what you want to study, you’ve prayed, and you’ve read your passage.
You’ve heard the stories of people claiming “fresh revelation,” or that “God has spoken a new word” to them, and you’re reading Matthew 6:5-15. Again. You feel like there’s nothing new to it – it’s the “Lord’s Prayer.” You’ve heard these verses, and read them on your own, countless times. How do you dig a little deeper?
Well, to be honest, how you dig is going to depend a lot on you and what kind of person you are. I’m a nerd. Technically, I’m a theology nerd (although there’s a fair amount of Star Wars/science fiction/general knowledge nerd thrown in for good measure), so I love a good study involving lots of original language research, commentaries, and exegesis.
If that’s intimidating, don’t worry – I won’t start there 🙂 But if that’s where you’d like to go, bear with me and we’ll get there.
Read Your Passage
The first thing you need to do is read your passage again. Read it out loud. Read it in a different translation. Read it through five or six times. Become very familiar with the passage you have chosen to study. For our example, it is Matthew 6:5-15. so go grab your Bible, and read it a few times.
As you read, begin to take note of the following things. Use only your chosen passage at this point to answer these questions:
- Who is involved in this passage?
- What is happening in this passage?
- Where is this passage taking place?
- What is being taught in this passage (like, literally what is someone teaching)?
- What questions do you have after reading this passage?
You can write these answers in a notebook, or if you have a newer Bible with note-taking spaces (that you aren’t filling with meaningless art 😉 ), then jot down your notes in your Bible. I prefer a notebook, but that’s just me. In fact, when we switched churches recently, I picked out a rather nice little journal at Walmart for sermon notes and study notes; it’s a treat to write in a nice book and keep everything in one place.
Read the Surrounding Passages
The next step is to read the passage before and after your chosen verses. In our case, you’d want to read Matthew 6:1-4, and Matthew 6:16-18. By reading the passages surrounding your verses, you are keeping your passage in context. I cannot even begin to stress how important it is that the Bible must always be read and kept in context. Modern day Christians have a nasty little habit of pulling out random verses, applying them to their own particular life situations, and ignoring whatever they actually mean in their original context. Chris Rosebrough, from Pirate Christian Radio, says the first three rules of biblical interpretation are context, context, context, and he is absolutely right.
If you look at the paragraph/section immediately before and after your passage, you might feel like that’s enough information to answer all of your questions. Better yet – read the whole chapter or the whole book. The more context you have, the better able you’ll be to understand the passage you are studying.
Look for clues and answers to the above questions, as well as:
- Who wrote this particular passage of Scripture?
- To whom was it written? Who was its original audience?
- Why was it written? Are there particular issues being addressed?
- What does it mean in its original position within Scripture?
These questions, plus the ones above, are plenty to get you started in digging deeper into any passage of Scripture.
Read the Passage Again
Now that you’ve immersed yourself in the proper context, go back and read your passage again. Note what jumps out at you this time; maybe you notice something different, or a phrase seems to pop out a bit more. Think about this, ponder on it, pray about it.
If you’re really ready to move on, check out cross references. Most Bibles have cross references, either in the middle of each page, or along the bottom. Almost every verse has a section of cross-references, and you can look up the other Scriptures that your cross-references lead you to. But…take those in context as well, which means you should repeat the above steps for each of your cross references!
I realize that if you’re like me, you probably aren’t going to be able to accomplish all of this is one sitting. That is okay! There is no time limit on studying Scripture. Take your time, be methodical, be thorough, and enjoy your time with the Word, the Holy Spirit, and your Creator!
Hopefully this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Whenever you need to stop your process, whether because you feel it’s complete, or because the children need breakfast, pray. Pray that the Holy Spirit will bring the words to your mind throughout the day, that the connections you need to see in Scripture will be there, and that you will rightly handle the Word of God. Pray that God will use your study of Scripture to change your life, influence you, and influence your family for good. Thank Him for a good study time together, even if that time was challenging to you in some way, and thank Him that we have His Word to guide us every day.
Next time we’ll look at how to dig deeper in a more technical sense, with word studies, commentaries, etc. I hope you are finding this helpful. Let me know if you have specific questions!