Before I officially joined a church, I tried to study Scripture on my own. I wanted to learn more about Jesus and how the Old and New Testaments both point to salvation through Jesus Christ alone. But I didn’t know how to, and I was embarrassed that I didn’t understand it and couldn’t just “do it on my own.”
When I talk to others—even those who have been involved in churches since birth—I hear similar sentiments. Do you find studying Scripture on your own to be difficult? We all need to be reminded that reading Scripture is a skill that needs support and structure. That might seem totally different from other types of reading, but when we read Scripture, we are studying an ancient text. It makes total sense to structure studying.
When we read a book by a modern author, we can assign meaning to the text, and the meaning we find is never wrong—it’s just our interpretation. But for the Bible, God has one intention, so it matters if you are right or wrong with your understanding of the text. We believe that we are guided by the Holy Spirit, who is our Helper in faith in our reading and study. Through this academic and spiritual discovery, we learn who God is.
Find a Method
I tried to read the Bible a handful of times on my own before I was involved in a church. I would always start in Genesis. I’d make it to chapter 4 or 5 before giving up. I didn’t understand what I was reading or what it meant. I knew very basic Christian principles but had never been told that the Bible would be difficult to read without help. So when I started going to church and wanted to dive deeper into Scripture, I didn’t know what to do.
I’d picked up enough in church to know that I didn’t have to start in Genesis and that maybe I should start with the Gospels. For my beginning method, I would read a section verse by verse and write down any question that came to my mind about what I was reading. The hard part was that I understood what I was reading, especially the narrative, but had no clue how to dig deeper.
I am going to outline a simple method to dig into Scripture. Studying Scripture isn’t one size fits all. Think about what you do when you are learning new material in a different subject. What is your routine? Apply that to your Bible time.
Step 1: Read
The first step to studying the literature of the Bible is to read the passage. To understand what you are reading, you may need to look up some background on the book of the Bible you’re studying. If you have a study Bible, there are often helpful summaries that explain who the author is, what the historical context is, and what the literary style of the text is. These are things to learn to better uncover the meaning behind the narrative.
Step 2: Questions
There are many questions to ponder during your study. I know I often have thousands of questions. Learning to ask “What does this tell me about God’s character?” has been a game changer for my study. If I am confused about a passage or why it is telling me this detail, I ask, “What does this tell me about God.” For instance, in Leviticus 16:20–22, we see God command Aaron (through Moses) to place a live goat before the altar and confess the sins of the people on its head. After he did this, someone was to set the goat free in the wilderness. On the surface, this seems super silly. But what does this tell me about God? It tells me He cares to lift the burden of sin and shame. In these verses, God asked Aaron to move the sins of the people far away from them—to place the ultimate burden in His hands.
Step 3: Connect
There’s a saying that has to do with Bible studies: “Scripture interprets Scripture.” We can see this inside Holy Scripture itself. In the New Testament, we often see authors use verses from the Old Testament to reinforce Jesus’ teaching and to explain living a life of faith. When you read something in Scripture and determine academically what you think it means, test that meaning. See if you can find other places in Scripture that teach the same thing. Additionally, this is where devotionals, commentaries, or adult spirituality books fit in. What do others say about these verses? If you are the only one who thinks of the specific meaning, you may have to ask your pastor to help you understand it.
Step 4: Pray
Open and close your time in Scripture in prayer. Isaiah 55:11 states, “So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God promises that He works through His Word. Trust in that and ask Him to guide you through it.
Find a Group
Even though this post is about studying on your own, it is very important to actively engage with Scripture with other Christians. Join a Bible study, small group, or online forum where you can learn with others. This is so edifying, and other perspectives can help you form questions during your private study.
Find Faithful Resources
In step 3 of this method, I suggest using other resources to help you study. There are many tools that can help you study Scripture, but I personally think books are one of the top tools. Because books are long-form content, I think they allow you to really dig into themes, history, and theological arguments at your own pace and on your own level. Having a guide, like a book, makes building your Bible reading skills more straightforward—especially when the book is aimed to help you know how to study Scripture. In Ten Questions to Ask Every Time You Read the Bible, author Andrew R. Jones does just that.
Improve your biblical literacy by asking these ten questions every time you meditate on or read a section of Scripture.
It is worth your time to invest in learning how to better study, read, and meditate on Holy Scripture. We can trust that whenever we read God’s Word, it is working in our lives.