Reading the Bible is different than reading any other book ever written. And while you can–and should–bring all of your regular reading skills to your study of the Bible, there are a few things that you have to do differently. These unbreakable rules of Bible study will help keep you on track and get the most out of your time in God’s Word. Once you learn these five rules, you can start teaching them to your kids because the rules apply to all ages. It’s another example of getting great habits started early that will serve your kids for the rest of their lives, and who doesn’t want that?
And guess what (chicken butt)– These rules grow with you as you become a better and better student of God’s Word. You won’t outgrow them.
The first two rules are rules of practice, things to get in the habit of doing.
Rule #1: Pray
This may be really obvious, but I can’t give a list of unbreakable rules of Bible study without putting this one at the top. It’s really important to pray before you start reading or studying your Bible, and it’s a darn fine idea to pray again at the end as you take what you’ve read into your life. We’ve heard that it’s important to pray before Bible study, but why?
For one, you want God to be your teacher, so you’ve got to set your heart and mind toward Him. It’s like you’re reading the textbook, and you get to learn the material from the professor who wrote it. If you go in expecting to be your own teacher, think how limiting that is.
Also, understanding the Bible is firmly in God’s domain, so we should definitely ask for as much understanding as we can handle, day by day. Here are a few verses to think about:
“Now He said to them [the disciples], ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” Luke 24:44-45 (NASB)
“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…. But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’” Matthew 13:10-13, 16-17
“Teach me Your statutes.” David says this nine times in Psalm 119!
God can lead you right where He wants you to go, and He alone knows your heart and your future completely. Pray to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, and to be discerning as you go.
Rule #2: Mark
This is a hard one for a lot of people, but if you can crash through it, it’s really going to open up your study. Here’s the deal–It’s okay to mark in your Bible. It’s actually more than okay! If you struggle with this, get a separate Bible just for all your markings so you have a clean Bible, too.
Marking your Bible means–
- writing notes from sermons (I put the date and the initials of the pastor, for example: JM 3-17-15)
- noting your insights (be sure to date them)
- writing out lists
- highlighting verses you want to memorize
- color-coding certain themes or words
- and anything else you want to write because it’s your Bible and your study
The whole point is to make your study more meaningful, so do whatever helps with that. And you’ll be reading your Bible for the rest of your life, so think about your markings as notes and guidance for your future self. AND think about what a priceless heirloom when that Bible is handed down to one of your kids someday!
The next three rules are rules of concept, ways to get in the habit of thinking.
Rule #3: Context
If I knew 300 languages, I couldn’t overstate the importance of this one.
Everything you read in the Bible has a context, and you can’t just gloss over it and expect to understand Scripture. Sometimes, a verse means what you think it means when you first read it, but sometimes it means something else completely when you look at the context. But the meaning will always be enhanced by the context.
Examples of context:
- The material before and after the passage–why this verse is where it is
- What kind of book it’s in–reading prophecy is very different from reading historical narrative, for example
- Historical, geographical, and cultural–Put yourself in the shoes of the original writer and readers
Rule #4: Big picture (really big picture!)
It’s easy to get lost in details or language, so it’s a huge help to remember that the Bible as a whole has one main character and one big story.
Who is the main character?
The main character is always God, so always look to see what He’s up to. Even in Esther, where His name never appears, He’s the main character. Remembering this gives your reading a framework, even if you find yourself utterly confused. Leviticus? Lots of details, many of which don’t make sense at first. But if you ask yourself, “What is God doing here?”, you will at least remember that God is trying to teach His people as they are headed through the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. That helps.
What’s the big story?
Besides a main character, there’s a big story. From start to finish, the Bible is about God’s love for the people He created. He works to reconcile the relationship, and that is done through Jesus. If you can read Scripture through that lens, you’ll see the aerial view of the Bible, and this is definitely a case where you don’t want to miss the forest for the trees!
Getting a handle on this big picture thing empowers you as a Bible teacher for your kids. At some point, they will ask you a question you can’t answer right then. That’s fine. Model to them the habit of “research and return”, and bring their question into the big picture. For example, “What a great question! You’re really thinking about this story, and I love it! I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’ll find out. Let’s think about the big picture first, though. If we remember that this story is about God, what does that show us about Him?” Obviously, it depends on the question, but you get the idea.
Keep in mind that since you’re reading a book written through the power of one Spirit telling one big story about one main character, there aren’t contradictions. So look for connections across your reading, and see how Scripture unfolds itself, layer by layer.
Rule #5: Purpose
If you pick up a book that teaches you how to build a house, you’re going to keep the goal in mind with every page, right? You’re learning this specific thing because you’ll need it to accomplish something in building the house. And if you start reading the book with all your attention on the font or how this reminds you of a house you grew up in, or anything other than the real goal of building a house, you’re lost. We read books for reasons, and those reasons matter.
You’re studying your Bible, and that’s great, but what’s the point? Simple–The purpose of the Bible is to make you more like Jesus. That’s it. And what a privilege. When you’re studying the Old Testament, you’re seeing God pointing ahead to Jesus, and you’re studying what Jesus Himself studied. When you’re reading the New Testament, you’re getting to know your role model up close and personal. What does He do, and why? The letters explore the Christian life, theology, and the Gospel. All of those will shape your character to be more like Jesus.
Here’s a free printable to help you remember these five rules. When you print it out, just cut it in half. You’ll have two copies you can stick in two Bibles!
That’s it. Five simple (simple, but not always easy!) and unbreakable rules of Bible study. I hope you can see how easy it is to learn them, and to turn around and teach them to your kids. And if you haven’t signed up to get your Discipleship Kit, be sure to do that right now. One of the things I’m going to send you is a short Bible study to do with your kiddos. It’s a great way to get started!
What are YOUR unbreakable rules of Bible study? Tell me in the comments below!