How to Study the Bible

A hand flipping through a Bible

Tips and Resources for Bible Study

If you really want to get down and dirty in studying your Bible, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Below are some tips as well as links to online resources that can help you delve deeper into God's word.

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Tips

  • Get a good study Bible.  Check out the How to Choose a Bible page for help in making a selection, and head to the Bible section of our bookshop when you're ready.
  • Don't go it alone.  Your own study is important, but you can learn more and faster if you combine individual study with a group of people who are also studying the Bible.  There might be a group in your church, an online group, or you might form one yourself.
  • Use a variety of sources.  A good study Bible is helpful but still has the bias of those who wrote the notes.  You won't avoid bias in study materials, but you can be sure that you mix it up and hear many voices of interpretation.  If you're liberal, read some conservative stuff as well.  If you're conservative, mix it up with some liberal thought.  If you're from North America, see what the Asians, Latin Americans, and Africans are saying.  You get the idea.  As we say at MBS..."One Book, Many Voices."
  • Read in context.  While your study might be focused on a particular verse or two, those verses don't exist in a vacuum.  Read the whole chapter and see what's going on.  Who is speaking and to whom?  What kind of literature is this?  How does it fit into the book of the Bible you're reading?  Is it quoting another part of the Bible?  Is it a phrase that appears in other places in that book or chapter?
  • Try reading aloud.  As we all know from that misinterpreted e-mail, tone is everything.  Read the passage you're studying aloud.  Does the meaning change if it is said with laughter?  With sarcasm?  With anger?  Tongue in cheek?

Resources

It used to be that you needed a wall full of reference books to study the Bible.  You still need that same information--maps, dictionaries, charts, commentaries, etc--but now you can find most things online.  Here are some sites to bookmark for your study time.

  • The MassBible Bible Quiz!  While this won't help you do directed study on a particular passage, every answer has links to information, art, music, biographies and more that relate to the biblical question asked.  If you just want to randomly learn things, this is a fun place to start.
  • If you want to find a particular passage and know a word or two from the verse, you no longer need a bound concordance.  You can go to the bottom of this page and type in your keywords and have the options come up for you.
  • A more comprehensive service can be found at BibleGateway.com.  While I miss having the option for searching the NRSV, this is a helpful site to find the passage you are looking for by verse, topic, and keywords.
  • Need a map?  You might not think of Google as being particularly interested in the Bible, but check out their Bible maps site.  You can put in any chapter and verse and up pops a map of the area mentioned with points of interest marked.  You click on the point of interest and up come photographs of the area, history, and all sorts of information.  Was there life before Google?
  • How about pictures?  You can find a pretty comprehensive set of photographs and descriptions of biblical sites at BiblePlaces.com.
  • Bible Dictionary and Encyclopedia.  While you can find religious dictionaries and encyclopedias targeted toward a particular denomination or audience, it is hard to beat the information in Wikipedia.  There is information on every biblical personage, book of the Bible, biblical location, and even interpretations of well-known parables and stories.
  • Bible Charts.  This one is trickier.  The sites with Bible charts tend to either want to sell you charts or to show you a chart indicating the end of the world is next week.  Charts can be very helpful, however, if you can find the right one.  Probably the best bet here is to simply do a general search on the type of chart you want (e.g. "chart of the kings of Israel and Judah") and see what comes up.
  • Commentaries.  It is incredibly helpful to read how others have interpreted a passage we're struggling with.  Unfortunately, sites that make commentaries fully available for free only address conservative, evangelical readers.  If that is your bent, you can find a lot, including a large selection of early church documents, at VirtualSeminary.net.  For those who are middle of the road or lean left, check with your pastor for something that would suit you.  There may be something in the pastor's own library or in the church library that you could borrow.  And everyone should check Wikipedia in case the passage in question has been written about there.
  • General religious tradition and practice.  The accounts in the Bible often describe the origins of religious practice, be that Christian or Jewish or otherwise.  If your study is leading you to ask about such things, Beliefnet is the best place on the web to get answers.
  • MassBible Ask-a-Prof.  We have a great group of Bible and Seminary professors from across the theological spectrum who are available to respond to Bible-related questions you have.  Its a service free to MBS members and members of Partner Churches and available for a small donation to others.

 

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