There are people who are intimidated by the Bible, fearing that the Scriptures can only be accurately understood by theologians and religious professionals. Others have tried to read some portions of the Bible, but quickly got lost and discouraged. Some have bought into the common view that the Bible is irrelevant to life in today’s world.
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke both to the relevance and value of the Scriptures when He said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
If the Scriptures do indeed come “from the mouth of God,” then any thinking person will want to know what our Creator has to say. If the Word of God is indeed like bread for our souls, then we should all recognize our need for the spiritual nourishment God supplies.
No, the Bible is for everyone: children to adults, beginners to scholars, lay believers to full-time pastors and missionaries. The early Christian leader Gregory made this comment over 1500 years ago: “Holy Scripture is a stream of running water, where alike the elephant may swim, and the lamb walk.”
Seminary professor Dr. John Hannah was speaking at a conference when he made a statement that startled everyone. He said, “God can change your life if you will just read the Bible five minutes every day.” The listeners were quite surprised. Anticipating what people were wondering, Dr. Hannah continued, “You’re probably asking how your life can be changed by reading for just five minutes. The answer is that it isn’t the ‘five minutes’ that does it; it’s the ‘every day.’”
Of course, the trick in Dr. Hannah’s advice is that when a person gives God five minutes every day, he or she discovers how enjoyable and exciting the Scriptures are and wants more. Soon they want to read for ten minutes … then twenty. They discover what David meant when he wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
The Bible is for everyone. The Bible is for you. Open its pages and see what the Lord will do in your life.
Tips for personal Bible study
1. Read to pursue a personal relationship with God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In one sense, the Bible is just like any other book. We read according to the ordinary rules of grammar and interpretation, just as we learned in school.
In another sense, the Bible is different from any other book. It is the one book we read to pursue a personal relationship with the Author. When we read a book on science, we read to learn science. When we read a book of history, we read to learn about history. But when we read the Scriptures we read to get to know God and listen to Him speak to us through His living Word.
Jesus defined eternal life this way: “Now this is eternal life: that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3)
When you sit down to open your Bible, do so with the attitude that you are meeting with the Person of God. Humbly open your mind and heart to hear what He has to say. As in any other relationship, a conversation goes two ways. God speaks to you through His Word. When we speak back to Him we call it prayer. Practice both listening and praying when you read. Talk to the Lord about your responses to what you see in the Bible.
2. Read normally.
While the Bible is uniquely the Word of God, our method of reading should be normal. If you pick up a novel, you start at the beginning, read the first sentence, then the second, and so on. When you get tired of reading, you probably mark your place with a bookmark, and pick up there next time. You read the Bible the same way.
It would never occur to you when reading a novel to open it at random, pick a sentence at random, read it and think, “I wonder what that sentence means?” You know that no sentence exists on its own, that it is part of an immediate context and part of the whole story. And yet, picking sentences at random is what many people do with the Bible, and wonder why the verses they read make little sense.
In terms of method, read the Bible normally. Open to the book of the moment, and start at Chapter 1, verse 1. Continue reading at your normal pace.
3. When in doubt, keep reading.
The Bible is a very large book. It covers thousands of years of history. Its books were written over a span of 1500 years in ancient languages. The events described occurred in cultures far from our own, and there’s a world of history involved in understanding them. The Bible is a lifetime study. Naturally, there will be people, places, events, and background that will be unfamiliar to you.
That’s normal. Don’t assume you have to understand every detail to benefit from reading. A helpful practice is to keep a notepad handy where you can write down questions as they arise. If you don’t understand something, write it down:
“What’s a Pharisee?”
“Who is this Herod guy?”
“What do they mean by the Passover?”
You can find out the answers to your list of questions quickly by sitting down for lunch or coffee with an experienced Bible teacher. But don’t let your questions shut down your study.
One of the best practical rules of Bible study you can apply is, “When in doubt, keep reading.” It has been well said that “the Bible is the greatest interpreter of the Bible.” If you’ll keep reading, you’ll often discover the answers to your questions a few chapters down the line, or in the next Bible book you read.
4. If you are reading the Bible for the first time, emphasize the New Testament in your reading.
The whole Bible is the Word of God, but new students will do better by studying the New Testament for a while. There are a few reasons for this recommendation.
We live in the New Testament age since Jesus died on the cross and rose again. The Old Testament is a wonderful study in itself, but it mainly deals with the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) and God’s relationship with the nation of Israel, a covenant that is no longer in effect. That accounts for the strange feelings and confusion of many new students who dove directly into the Old Testament. The New Testament deals with the fully revealed work and teaching of Jesus Christ which is where we live historically.
The Old Testament was largely written to prepare for the Person and work of Christ, but it is incomplete in that regard; it is like a mystery story without the last chapter explaining the solution. Knowing Christ is the goal of existence, and the New Testament is where we can learn directly about Him. Then, as you grow in your familiarity with the New Testament, add some Old Testament reading to your habits, and you’ll find it easier to put the whole puzzle together.
Try opening the Bible and let the Lord teach you. Whether you are a complete beginner or a long-time diligent student of the Scriptures, you can be sure the Lord has great things to show you and lead you to experience! And most of, he wants to reveal himself to you. Open your heart to know him.