Do you ever feel lost or wonder what direction would be best for you to go? The psalmist in Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible, observes that God's word "is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."
Through studying the Bible, we can gain insights into how our stories fit into the grand story of Scripture. We also may yearn to know God better and to grow spiritually. The Apostle Paul long ago urged the early Christians in Rome to "be transformed through the renewal of the mind" (Romans 12:2). Through the working of the Holy Spirit within us, Bible study serves as a means for such transformation. Furthermore, studying Scripture enlightens us about who God is and how much He loves us (1,2).
So, how might we study the Bible and where do we start? We can engage in either personal or group study. I have found engaging in both types most beneficial in my life. In his essay on "Scripture and Christian Community," Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove maintains that "the critical reflections of the scholar ... and the individual Christian can add, and have added, a great deal to the community's understanding of Scripture" (3).
Moreover, we benefit by studying the Bible in community through a deeper understanding of it as well as experiencing God's love and wisdom tangibly through those who gather with us in such settings. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic "Life Together" also emphasizes the importance of personal and communal Bible reading and notes that personal Bible study "gives us solid ground on which to stand and clear directions as to the steps we must take" (4).
Most faith traditions and churches provide opportunities for group Bible studies for their members and others in their local community. Other local, national, and international groups offer group Bible study through networks and/or online communities. For example, the Bible Study Fellowship (https://www.bsfinternational.org/) offers in-depth Bible studies in community for people of all ages around the world without cost to participants.
If you are ready to try personal Bible study, a good way to start might be by reading one chapter a day of one of the Gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Many translations of the Bible are available. In my own personal Bible study, I use a variety of translations, including NRSV, NIV, , CEB, NABRE, The Passion Translation, and The Message.
Although I read from one translation of the Bible in personal study, I refer to other translations to help gain a better understanding of verses and sections that I find personally confusing. It is not necessary, however, to purchase numerous translations because searchable versions of the Bible are available online, such as in Bible Gateway (https://www.biblegateway.com/ ).
Study versions are available for several Bible translations, including the NRSV, NIV, CEB, and NABRE. Study Bibles offer useful resources, such as maps during Biblical times, study notes, cross-references to other related texts, concordances, and other study aids. You may find it helpful to also obtain a Bible dictionary to help with words that you do not understand or want to know how such words were used in the context of biblical times. A concordance can help you understand how words and phrases have been used in other contexts within the Bible so you might better grasp their meaning in the passage that you are studying.
You might be wondering what role a good commentary has in personal Bible study. In other words, if you can obtain a Bible scholar's perspective with such a tool, why struggle through difficult passages on your own? Commentaries are important in Bible study, especially in regard to the authors' insights on the literary, historical, and theological aspects of a given passage (5). However, I concur with several Bible teachers whom I know personally that it is important to spend time studying a passage on our own before consulting a commentary for the simple reason that it gives more space for acquiring our own insights, through the Holy Spirit, on a passage and its personal implications for our own lives. Later in our Bible study, commentaries can serve the purpose of enriching the God-given insights that we have acquired through our personal study.
Are you ready to be enlightened, encouraged, and guided by God's word in Scripture? Perhaps now is the time to pick up a Bible and to begin reading a chapter a day out of one of the Gospels or another book within the Bible that you sense being led by the Holy Spirit to read.
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 63.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 165.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Scripture and Christian Community," in Scripture and Its Interpretation: A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible, Edited by Michael J. Gorman (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 384.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 81.
Michael J. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 218.