There are a mountain of resources available today to help you learn how to study the Bible, the only problem is that most of them are built on incorrect assumptions. In fact, I would go so far as to say, a lot of the training that is out there, it would be better if you had no training at all.
Where to Start The first and most important faulty assumption is that Bible study begins with the Bible. Bible study, begins with you. The Bible is not an artifact. If you study it like an artifact, you are engaging in archaeology not devotion. The entire idea within evangelical Christianity is that if you study the Bible enough some magic things will happen to you. While there are some residual benefits from doing a random study, it’s just that — a random study, which may or may not address something in your life.
The vast majority of the Bible was not written as a general textbook, it was written, in response to human need. That’s God’s idea. He responds to human need. He sent his Son in response to human need, and he gave you His Word in response to human need. When you sit down to meet God, start by opening your heart to God and ask him to talk to you about where you are and what you need. Then, if appropriate, read a passage of Scripture which is relevant to you. The goal is not information, it’s application.
I will even go farther and say that the concept of “exegesis” is flawed, because it puts the focus on the text, rather than your relationship with God.
There are two major kinds of application:
1. Direct Application. This is the obvious one that we understand. For example 2 Timothy 2:3 “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” In this case, the Scripture is relevant if you are experiencing difficulty in your life. It helps you to firm your heart up so that you too can endure hardness. Paul wrote it to Timothy, but He put it in the Bible, because he is writing it to you.
2. Analogous Application. This is the 1 Corinthians 10:11 principle “All these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition” For example, the life of Abraham. His life has interest for understanding the flow of God’s plan in history, but what is more important is that the choices he made can instruct your heart. Jesus says you must “hate” your family in order to pursue God. (Luke 14). Where do we see this modeled? In the life of Abraham. His life journey is of separation from family to pursue the things of God. So we have a model. And what is the point of this model? It should help you in relating to your own family and making appropriate choices of when to “leave” and when to “cleave”, and give you courage to pay that cost, because of the greater reward.
Now of course, you could simply discover that because you were reading through Genesis that week, but there are over 1000 chapters in the Bible. That’s kind of scatter shot. There of course is value in just putting these things into your heart so you are properly postured and can respond to life appropriately as it comes…. future application.. but I would suggest that this, which is considered to be the the ONLY good way to study the Bible, should actually be a secondary way of studying the Bible. Sure you might do a life study on Abraham, because you just happen to hit that part of the Bible, or you happen to join a Bible study, and that will help you put good principles in your heart for later, but part of the problem is that until you are faced with this kind of situation, it can be difficult to even understand what is being said or what its significance is. It’s like telling your children how to deal with college entrance exams. This kind of information is very difficult for them to digest, or even understand, say in middle school, because they have no life experience to give your advice contextual meaning. As they get older, however, the fact of the exam, and the emotional pressures it creates prepares their heart to understand and receive your counsel.
Therefore, when you study the Bible, you will receive the greatest profit when you come to it searching for those Scriptures which are intended to apply to your situation. Not to mention that it makes the Bible study a lot more exciting. Reading the life of a random dead person can be a bit dull, but reading about the life of someone who has faced the same challenges that you are facing can be truly inspiring.