I’m no expert! I’m just a guy who has over 50 years of experience of reading and studying the Bible, doing it the wrong way and doing it the best way. My purpose is not to tell you what you should do but rather to share what works for me and has been most helpful on my spiritual journey. So, I open my study door and welcome you in. Observe, and if you find something that might help you, please take it.
The absolute place to start is to develop the utmost regard for the Word of God. I can’t over stress the importance of loving and honoring God’s revelation to those he loves. Deuteronomy 32:46-47 The Bible is the way we learn about God, the beauty of the Christ, and the depth of his love for us. Always have as your purpose when you open your Bible that you want to hear from God. Believers should want to be listening to what God has to say so that they may be shaped by his words into the most useful vessels possible.Unless you master the Bible it will not master you. The following are some things that have been helpful to me and I think can be to you as well.
1. Context is king! A passage out of context often becomes a pretext.
Never come to your Bible only to find passages that seem to support what you already have decided is truth. Always come to your open Bible with an open heart and and open mind expecting to hear and learn truth from God. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to his children. But back to context…
Think of context in at least these ways.
If you will think about Scripture in these ways you will be far more likely to get the meaning intended for you. All Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) is God’s message to us to change us for the better. 2 Timothy 3:16
Critical thinking is required work here. Who was speaking? Who was the speaker speaking to? Why? What principal can I apply to my life today from a statement made many centuries ago to people in a different culture? If you will develop the habit of thinking in terms of context you will avoid some common pitfalls along the way. A good study Bible will have introductions to the books of the Bible and will give broad context to the story. Use that resource!
Remember this! Every false teacher takes God’s word(s) out of context. Everyone!
2. The Bible is it’s own best commentary.
A given text is best understood by reading other texts that address the same subject. A good reference Bible is invaluable. Before you consult a favorite teacher or preacher, before you read a commentary, read the Bible FIRST and then, and only then go elsewhere for more light.
3. Read whole books of the Bible. Admittedly some Bible books are quite long and you might not be able to read all of the book in one setting. But however you do it you must read the whole book.
My practice for many years (since I got high speed internet…) has been to do most of my Bible reading online. I prefer Bible Gateway but there are several other very good sites to choose from. I also prefer the ESV (English Standard Version). It is a trustworthy word for word translation that I find just as comfortable to read as the more popular NIV or Living Bible but more true to the best manuscripts available.
I turn off notes and references for my original reading. I read the book several times until I am pretty familiar with the story. I want to know how that passage applies to me and to others. Often it is in the simple reading of the Book that God seems to zero my mind in on a truth I had previously not seen or had forgotten. Remember, if you are God’s child, the best Teacher lives in you. The Holy Spirit alone is the supreme teacher. John 16:13
Once I have read through the text several times and thought about it, asked myself questions, and considered the actual words of passages, only then do I turn on notes and references. Then I read the passages referred to by the references given. Then next I read the notes available. My last resource is to read a commentary. I think it is far better to find what God is saying to me than to read what some other man says God is saying to me. Of course commentaries are very valuable but don’t get the cart before the horse. Let God speak first, ask God to show you His truth and then as a last step read a commentary, or your favorite preacher’s thoughts on the passage. How wonderful it is to have read a passage and come to a conclusion and then later find sweet assurance that I got it right when I find other trustworthy men and women reached the same conclusion.
4. Don’t allow a pet doctrine, your church traditions, your denomination or lack of a denomination, to get you off course.
Determine in your heart that your purpose is to allow the Word of God alone to advise you and set the agenda for what you believe and trust. If you are fortunate as I am, one day you too will be elderly and will have some time to contemplate your handling of the Word of God. You will see your mistakes, some because of youth and inexperience perhaps, some because of sinful tendencies, and some because of poor methodology. And thank God you can see some things you have done right and you will realize you are better because of it.
Remember this truth! When God described the ways we are to love him, one way is with our minds.
“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
To love God with our minds requires some discipline. It goes against our natural bent. We must be purposeful, determined, and persistent. We must control our thinking, bringing even our thoughts into subjection to God’s will. To be right we must think right. We are to meditate on God’s word. Think for the glory of God. Treasure Christ in your mind first and your heart will reflect it and your life will show it.
I hope these thoughts will be helpful as you learn to love God more and grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ for his magnificent name.