How I Study my Bible


Many works of literature are the product of human brilliance, but the Bible is the inspired word of God, 2 Tim. 3. 16. Every Christian should be disciplined to read it regularly and systematically for it is our source of guidance and growth, Ps. 119. 105; 1 Pet. 2. 2. Regular reading will give a working knowledge of scripture, but it is important also to study regularly and to dig deeper by spending time studying ‘the word’. While this article is biographical it is presented with the hope that an older man’s experience of Bible study may provide points of guidance that you can adapt to suit your own style of study. Perhaps you can find something worth imitating as you commit yourself to learning the truth of God.

My teenage years

One lesson I learned very early on was that if I was going to study the scriptures I would have to make time for it for there were so many rivals for my time. Secular studies make a claim for a major slice of your time whether you are academically inclined or apprenticed to a trade. As you are young and energetic, sport will often also make a bid for your time. In recent years technology has added to the list of potential time wasters with the availability of the Internet and the proliferation of social networking sites. For us all, apportioning time to God’s service should be a top priority, but there is a potential danger in being busy. We can be so occupied for Christ that we can neglect to be occupied with Him, Luke 10. 38-42. We must make time for Bible study!

A major lesson that I had to learn at that stage was that getting to know God through Bible study involved solitude. Moses, Elijah, John Baptist and Paul all experienced spiritual education in isolation with God. I am not suggesting that you take a year out for concentrated Bible study! What I am saying is that at times you will have to be alone with Him, away from the crowd. On occasions, this may mean foregoing the companionship of friends even when they have exciting plans for the day! Sadly, some of these friends will not understand. An unexpected lesson that I had to learn was the need for perseverance. Preachers had left the impression that every moment that they spent with the Bible was sheer ecstasy. For me that was not true to life and anyone who gives themselves to the study of scripture discovers that it is hard work. To be able to ‘rightly (divide) the word of truth’ you have to ‘study’, that is give diligence, 2 Tim. 2. 15. Secular studies require strenuous mental activity: so too does Bible study, 2 Tim. 2. 7. The Lord will not ‘give thee understanding’ if you do not ‘consider’ what you are reading. Nuggets of truth have to be found, Ps. 119. 162, so be like the Bereans who ‘searched the scriptures daily’, Acts 17. 11. There is great joy derived from it, but when discouragement sets in, persevere.

Taking advice

In my early years, there were men who gave me advice regarding the study of the scriptures. Obviously, counsel was given by preachers as they explained the great need to familiarize oneself with the book of God, but I was indebted to one man who at a personal level imparted valuable information about how best to go about studying the word of God. I refer to the late Mr. George Waugh. He had a heavy schedule with business and preaching, but despite that, for a period he devoted one night per week to gather with a few young men in the town of Prestwick with the aim of giving us guidance as to how to study. Subsequent suggestions in this article are methods that he recommended during that period. Perhaps there is a case for gifted teachers giving guidance to the younger people regarding how best to go about the earnest study of divine truth.

Practical tools

When I was young I was told that an armchair does not lend itself to diligent study! In days before every young person had their own desk and chair, a table had to do the job. Elisha had a table, a stool, and a candlestick, 2 Kgs. 4. 10. It may seem an obvious remark, but pen and paper were other necessities. I could never rely on memory, and neither can you. I recall a believer telling me that for fourteen years he had read his Bible without recording his meditations. He regretted that he had no permanent record of all that he had gleaned over the years. Another lesson that I learned was that notes on scraps of paper were inadequate. It is far better to use a pad or notebook, for the scraps can easily be lost. I was born too early to benefit from the computer age, but you might find it easier to record your findings electronically. Make sure you have backup! But Bible study predates the computer age, and to a great extent pen and paper are still essential.

Some friends of mine are very meticulous in the records that they keep, maintaining a file for every book of the Bible. Whenever valuable thoughts come to them either in their personal reading or at meetings, these are documented and filed in the appropriate place. I mention this for the benefit of those who would have the patience to follow their example.

Starting off

When commencing to study a book, I found it helpful to read it through, and re-read it perhaps 7 more than once. In the reading, recurring themes may be observed, or recurring words; these should be noted. The translation that I use is the Authorised Version, the King James Version, but I do compare it with other versions, in particular the Revised Version and J. N. DARBY’s New Translation. For me, using an Interlinear Bible facilitates comparison with the Revised Version. Some find its style a little complicated, but a lifetime’s usage means that I am very comfortable with it. There are occasions when a modern translation can help to explain an archaic phrase in the KJV, but some question the accuracy of some of these translations.

Speaking of Bibles, another that is of great help is what we commonly call the NEWBERRY Bible. Incorporated in it is a system of signs, which among other things indicate the tenses of the verbs. Those of us with no knowledge of Hebrew or Greek are greatly helped in understanding the sense of a verse by being shown the exact tense of the verbs employed in it.

Keeping notes

As already suggested, a pad or notebook is essential and I use margined paper. The page is headed with the name of the book and the chapter number. The verse number is placed in the margin with relevant jottings against it. For example, the precise meaning of words could be of interest and worth noting; also, the usage of the word in other passages and its translation in these passages. (There is a danger in being so obsessed by each word that we miss the general teaching of the passage; you don’t see the wood for the trees!). However, it must be remembered that every word is inspired, ‘words … which the Holy Ghost teacheth’ 1 Cor. 2. 13.

A concordance is an essential aid to understanding words. It helps to locate verses whose whereabouts have slipped your mind, but it will also give the expanded meaning of any Bible word. The concordance that I use is STRONG’s, and for years it has incorporated a numerical link with other helpful word-study books. By that I mean that if the number 5547 is the number allocated to a word in STRONG’s, that number is used in WIGRAM’s or THAYER’s etc. In more recent years computer based helps such as the Online Bible have utilized this same numerical system. I mentioned earlier that it is worth noting how words are translated in different passages and WIGRAM’s concordance is useful for that, but again, the Online Bible makes such a search very easy.

Another word-study book that was invaluable to me was W. E. VINE’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. From these various sources, the details of words are recorded.

Another thing I would note is an illustration of the truth conveyed in the verse. I ask myself, ‘Is there an Old Testament story that illustrates this, or would the Gospels or the Acts supply a suitable example of what is being taught’? Secular illustrations can be helpful, but there is no substitute for something that is drawn from scripture itself. Of course, constant reading of the historical books of the Bible is necessary to maintain this habit. I would also note the whereabouts of what may be described as parallel passages, and a Bible with good marginal references is of great assistance in this respect.

Section headings

Having selected a book for study, I would normally make some attempt to divide each chapter into sections with a suitable caption for each. Some friends are experts at making all their headings start with the same letter of the alphabet. Early on I found that I was spending unwarranted time on that without success, so it was abandoned! In dividing the passages, two things must be kept in mind. First, chapter divisions are very helpful but man-made, and sometimes the teaching at the end of a chapter spills over into the next; watch out for that. Second, divisions that we create are never watertight, although helpful in enabling us to remember the main theme of a section.


This is a term that we use for books written by Bible teachers to help us understand the scriptures. Commentators are not inspired! Sometimes you discover that they have difficulty in understanding the parts that puzzle you! As a young believer, I found that simple easy-to-understand books were of help to me. When some of my peers were reading what I thought were complicated volumes, I was contenting myself with H. A. IRONSIDE or W. E. VINE. I have no qualms about recommending simpler commentaries to young people, books by authors such as WILLIAM MACDONALD or WARREN WIERSBE although this is not an endorsement of everything they write.

To conclude

In a few words then, that is how I study my Bible. Your experience may be somewhat different, but whatever the method, keep on at the studying. Avoid making it an academic exercise, but rather a search for truth that can be put into effect in your life. Ezra ‘prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it’, Ezra 7. 10.