My Study Process
This is part 3 in a series on my personal process of studying the Bible (read part 2).
After the text is chosen, I’ll begin reading. First, I’ll read several different introductions to the book. These help me get an idea and context before getting into the text itself.
I’m a big fan of study Bibles – especially those edited by great theologians. I’ll usually begin by reading the introduction found in the ESV Study Bible since I find it the most thorough. Likewise, I’ll read from The MacArthur Study Bible as well as The Reformation Study Bible. I also have a few a Bible handbooks that I may read. These help me get my mind prepared. You might say that they help me get my interpreting “eyeglasses” on in order that I may “see” what I am reading.
More than often, I follow up with some quick research when it is needed. For example, the book of Titus was written for him to read while he was in Crete, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. I didn’t know much about Crete, so I looked it up in a Bible Dictionary and Bible Encyclopedia. I also found it in a map to help me get an idea of where it was in relation to Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth and a few other places with which I was more familiar. Likewise, if an introduction made reference to some theological terms and subjects that I was not well acquainted with, I would turn again to the dictionary and encyclopedia as well as some theological resources.
After I felt comfortable with what I knew about the context of the book, I began reading the book itself. This is where it gets tricky. The best thing to do is to read the entire book. However, if you have chosen a rather lengthy book like Romans, this may not be ideal. It could take you more than a few hours to get through it. So, I break a book down into pieces if I have to.
I do this by first scanning the book and reading the subtitles (often added in Study Bibles) which serve as a kind of summary for the text that follows it. By doing this, I am surveying the book and getting to know its flow and how it is divided. Paul, generally moves from argument to argument with most of them leading to the next. So, I can divide a larger book into little argument essays. Look at how the paragraphs and chapters are divided up. They are often great indicators.
For smaller books in the Bible, it is not necessary to divide. Books like Titus and James are relatively short. You can read the entire book in 30-40 minutes depending on your reading speed. The goal with having smaller sections to read is because I like to read them over and over each day. So, if I’ve chosen James, I would read all of the book every day before I did anything else. If I’ve chosen Romans, I would read the first 3-5 chapters the same way.
This step is not one to rush to quickly through. Although it doesn’t sound all that important in comparison to interpretation, it will likely set the most firmest foundation in your study. An important rule of Bible study is that we should let Scripture interpret Scripture. This means that almost all of the time, the Bible will teach you what the Bible says. So, when I am reading a passage that doesn’t always seem clear to me, the chapter after it might clear it all up.
Think of it like some of these more complex movies we have today. The first time you watch it, you miss so much stuff or don’t quite understand many of things that are happening because there is a great reveal at the end of it. The second time you watch it, you start to pick up on those things. The third time, you find even more. The fourth and fifth get even better. Before long, you have found so much in the text and you haven’t even began to interpret it!
The question is then, how long should you read the text? I read it until I can remember where things are. I’m not real good at memorizing verse numbers, but I do get a good picture in my head of where something is. So, ask me about Paul thoughts on the qualifications of pastors and I’ll tell you Titus, first page on the middle left. May not help you all that much unless you use the same Bible as me, but I really helps me and that is the goal – to get familiar with the Bible and hide it in our heart.
After I’m a bit familiar with the book (or section of the book), I’ll start interpreting. Still, I rarely stop reading the book this way even when I’ve began the interpretation process.
Also, while I’m reading a book, I find audio versions of the book and listen to them in my car and sometimes at work. Reading is about intake. We can soak in the Bible through many different ways. The more ways we take it in, the more we will be familiar with the text.