Becoming a Student of the Word
by Gil Rugh
As Christians, it is our responsibility to study God’s Word. Studying the Bible, however, can be difficult if one does not know where to start. That is why I would like to point out some helpful instructions for getting started with effective Bible study.
Tools for Bible Study
For starters, I recommend purchasing a good study Bible. A study Bible is a Bible that has explanatory notes at the bottom of each page. These notes will help you understand what the text means and will give you important information concerning a book’s author, date, purposes and key themes.
When choosing a study Bible, it is important to choose one that comes from a sound theological perspective. Personally, I like the Ryrie Study Bible. The notes are helpful, plus it is written from a dispensational perspective that understands the biblical distinction between Israel and the church. Understanding this distinction is necessary for proper interpretation of the Bible.
Second, I recommend purchasing a good Bible dictionary. A Bible dictionary provides helpful information on a wide variety of biblical topics. For example, if you want information on the Tabernacle, you can look up “Tabernacle” in a Bible dictionary and receive helpful information on this subject. Likewise, if you want to study about the person, Daniel, a Bible dictionary will give you a summary of the life of Daniel. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary is one Bible dictionary you will find helpful.
I also suggest purchasing a good one or two volume commentary on the whole Bible. The notes in such a commentary may be brief, but they will give you helpful comments on the whole Bible. I prefer the Bible Knowledge Commentary published by the faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary. This two-volume work gives very helpful insights on most of the passages of Scripture.
An exhaustive concordance is also a good tool for Bible study. A concordance will help you find all the passages where a particular biblical word is used. Perhaps you are interested in doing a study on the prophets of the Bible. You can go to a concordance and look up all the references to “prophet” or “prophecy.” You can then read all the passages where those words are used. As a result, you will have a greater understanding about that subject. Make sure the concordance you buy corresponds with the Bible version you use. Since I prefer the New American Standard Bible, I like to use the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance.
With the right study tools in hand, you are now ready to begin actual Bible study. When you have decided on a book to study, read and reread it many times. Some Bible teachers read the book they intend to study fifty times before they even pick up a commentary or begin to write any notes.
Rereading a passage will help you avoid one of the most common mistakes made by Christians—diving into a section of Scripture without being familiar with the general context of the passage. Attempting to interpret the Bible without understanding its context can lead to faulty interpretations.
After you have read a book several times, it is time to narrow your study to a particular paragraph. A paragraph is a unit of thought and is a good place to begin your detailed study.
The first paragraph of a book is a good place to start. Most Bibles have paragraphs marked off by bold verse numbers, making the beginning of a paragraph easy to identify. When you study the paragraph, be inquisitive and observe what the biblical author is saying. Ask yourself, “What is the central thought in this paragraph?” In one sentence try to explain what the author’s point is.
For example, when studying James 1:2-8, you will see that the main subject of this paragraph deals with trials and how believers should respond to them. When you have figured out the main theme of the paragraph, try focusing on key sentences and words within that paragraph. For example when studying James 1:2-8, you may want to focus on James 1:2 which says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Ask yourself “What is James saying in this sentence?” “What does the word ‘consider’ mean?” “What does the word ‘trials’ mean?” “How does the word ‘various’ relate to ‘trials?’ ” You may want to consult your Bible dictionary or commentary for help. Obviously, you will not be able to do a complete word study on every word in the sentence, so focus on the key words—those words that are especially critical to understanding the meaning of the sentence.
What about cross-referencing? Cross-referencing involves looking at other passages which relate in some way to the passage you are studying. I believe there is a place for cross-references, but we must be careful when using them. Before using cross-references it is best to make sure that you understand the primary passage you are studying first. When you have a firm grasp on the passage at hand, then you can see what other passages are saying.
To summarize, do the following when preparing to study:
1. Acquire the basic study tools: study Bible, Bible dictionary, Bible commentary and concordance;
2. Choose and reread the Bible book many times;
3. Study a paragraph until you know the theme or central idea of that paragraph;
4. Study the key sentences and key words by using your dictionary, commentary and concordance.
Learning the Word of God is challenging but rewarding. The more you study, the more you will sharpen your Bible study skills.