All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Evangelical Christians gratefully affirm that the Bible is the very Word of God, His gracious revelation of Himself to mankind in the form of words, sentences, and paragraphs. As such, we rightly emphasize the authority of Scripture and our need to live our lives in submission to its teaching.
However, there is often a disconnect between our words and actions. Although our mouths declare the Scriptures to be our final authority for all matters pertaining to life and godliness, our hands are often slow to pull our Bibles from their shelves. At times, many of us (myself included) are content with listening to our pastor’s sermon, assuring ourselves that his message is a sufficient “dose” of the the Word to sustain us for the week to come. And so, as soon as we get home, the Bible goes back to the shelf, where it sits all week, unopened until the start of the pastor’s next sermon. This reality (and it is a reality for many Christians) is unfortunate, but understandable.
The sad fact is that many Christians do not read their Bibles because they do not know how to read their Bibles. And they do not know how to read their Bibles because they have not been taught. I am convinced that if the church spent more time teaching people how to read and apply God’s Word, more people would read it, and more regularly at that!
Now, at this point, some of you reading this post may be tempted to shake your heads in disdain (especially if you are a Bible college student or seminarian), thinking that what I have just said is ridiculous and merely a lame excuse for laziness and apathy. Perhaps. But, I would ask that you hear me out. Whether or not you realize it, your experience with the Word is probably much different than that of many (maybe even most) others. It is likely that you have had certain influences in your life that have led you (probably by the hand and quite slowly) to your current appetite for and skill with God’s Word. Part of that leading almost certainly entailed training in how to read the Bible. That’s not to say that the training was formal or that it adhered to some sort of curriculum, but it was training nonetheless. Often, the best training is the informal exercise of example and imitation.
If this describes your experience (as it does mine), praise God for it. You have much to be thankful for. I wish that all Christians shared that privilege. But the truth is that many don’t. I don’t say this to excuse them (or anyone) of their responsibility to regularly read and apply God’s Word. However, I don’t want to stop there, as if that’s the end of the matter. There’s more to the story than that, and if we want to truly help people read God’s Word, and thus be directed and changed by it, we must think carefully about what they really need. I am convinced that one of the most dire needs of Christians today is training in how to read and apply the Bible.
But before I list some helpful resources related to the study of God’s Word, I want to offer my humble opinion about the best resource that a young or inexperienced Christian has in this regard: you. Too often, Christian leaders are too quick to throw countless books, articles, study guides, and videos at those seeking help with their study of the Bible (like I am about to do). But if there’s one thing that I have learned over the past year working in a church and with The Navigators, it’s that the best training you can give to someone is to sit next to them, Bibles open, and read God’s Word together, modeling what it means to study, memorize, and apply the text. Books are great, but they’re not nearly as effective as an older Christian brother or sister taking a younger Christian by the arm and leading them through a passage of Scripture, thus demonstrating how to read God’s Word. If that happened more consistently in the church, I think American Christianity would look very different.
That being said, there are tons of helpful resources out there that can assist you as you help someone read God’s Word. I have already detailed some of them in this post, but many bear repeating.
First, if you don’t have a good study Bible, get one. The ESV Study Bible is probably the best out there and is worth the price ($31.49 with free shipping from Amazon). Additionally, all copies of the ESV Study Bible come with complimentary access to a digital copy of the Bible online at ESVBible.org.
Second, consider using a basic Bible reading plan. A plan can help you stay on track with your reading, giving your a helpful sense of progress and accomplishment as you work through the many pages of the Bible. Your plan could be as simple as studying the book of Ephesians, a few verses a day. The aforementioned ESVBible.org offers a number of free reading plans. Zondervan and The Navigators have printable plans that may prove helpful. BibleGateway.com offers daily reading plans that can be delivered to your email inbox.
Third, make use of a basic Bible commentary. Contrary to what is often assumed, there are many great commentaries out there that are totally accessible to “normal Christians.” No Hebrew or Greek required! Matthew Henry’s Commentary On the Whole Bible is a classic and is available for free online. Zondervan’s Introduction to the Old Testament and Introduction to the New Testament are great one volume commentaries. The NIV Application Commentary set is a great resource for relating the Bible to today. Desiring God has a list of other great commentaries for each book of the Bible (although some may be on the more academic side).
Fourth, check out a basic introduction to hermeneutics (just a big word for biblical interpretation). Crossway’s new book, Welcome to the Story is a great place to start. You could also check out How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, Grasping God’s Word, and Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (in that order).
If you begin to use these basic aids in your study, I think you’ll soon realize that they’re not as daunting as they may first appear. Remember that these are designed to help you, not make the Bible more complicated and difficult.