Bible Study vs. Bible Reading

The other evening at church, we were talking about whether it’s more important to read through the Bible over and over, or more important to slow down and study passages from it.

Personally, I like the idea of reading through it every year because I think you are more likely to open your Bible every single day if all you have to do is pick it up. If you have to think of a topic, drag out your Strong’s concordance, Vine’s topical, and Matthew Henry’s commentary, I think you are a lot less likely to be in the mood to spend time with God.

I also like the idea of having read the Bible 5 or 10 or 20 times, depending how long you’ve been at it. After a while, it becomes like that favorite movie you can practically quote. No, but really – spending time with God every single day, and working your way through every aspect in which He has revealed Himself, has some pretty amazing benefits.

First of all, you get to know God pretty well – how He thinks, how He loves, how He has planned and labored for our redemption since the beginning of time. For instance, there are certain things I know about my mom or my dad. Certain things about their personalities that go without saying. They would no longer have to tell me that they love me, or that they have my best interest in mind, etc. I just know these things because I understand them. When you read the entire Bible, especially multiple times, you are building an all-around perspective of what God is like.

Secondly, if you can get in the habit of reading for a few minutes every single day, instead of waiting for a chunk of time in which you can sit down and really dive in, you are giving God the opportunity to grab your attention daily. Sure, there will be some mornings or evenings that you are tired and have to prop your eyelids open. There will be some days where you find yourself not really paying attention and needing to reread what you just spent the last five minutes staring at. However, eventually, it’s all going to sink in. Finding a time of day in which you are awake and mentally engaged is challenging, but it can be done.

Thirdly, when people make outrageous claims about the Bible saying this or that, you will know whether they are true. If you are truly paying attention while you read, you will know if you come across anything that just doesn’t seem to jive. Here it will definitely be your responsibility to pray and research and find out what is meant by such a passage, and then you will be able to answer if someone questions your faith in a book that they claim contradicts itself.

Lastly, I think it’s ludicrous for Christians to claim they believe something they have never even read all the way through. Baby Christians, new converts, okay. I get it – you haven’t had time yet. And I know that the Word of God speaks for itself, and when you identify with certain parts, you believe by faith that the rest of it is true. But come on. Seriously, you need to at least be moving toward that goal of having completely read it, and then keep right on going, moving toward the goal of having read it so many times you can practically quote it. I looked at my Kindle reading app, and the average time for reading through the Bible that I have downloaded is 44 hours and 9 minutes. Folks, that’s less than 8 minutes a day. We honestly have no excuse.

All that being said, I am not trying to deter anyone from actually taking a half-hour to an hour a day and studying the word of God. Or maybe you can carve out a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon – whatever works. Just try to form a habit you can stick with. I do believe that there are many insights to be gained by studying the meanings of words in their original languages. I also believe we should study the Bible in light of other Scriptures, and there is something to be said about reading supporting verses in one sitting, rather than as you come to them on your journey through the Bible.

Personally, I study the things that catch me off-guard, or things that are on my heart, or things I think I need a better understanding of. In this way, I use the Bible as a tool, a reference book, a how-to guide for life. I openly admit to not studying in-depth on a daily basis, but when I do, I usually feel compelled to study until I get to the bottom of an issue. This can take hours a day for several days sometimes. It still doesn’t happen often enough for me (in my opinion), so I intend to make some additions to my reading plan in order to study with intentionality (is that a word?).

I spoke with Ian on the way home about how he thinks we should approach Bible study. I said, some folks who study the Bible but don’t intentionally read it through never even get to all of it. How do we fix that problem? Ian said, “Study it in order.” Well, I should have known that was the obvious answer, but didn’t think of it on my own for some reason. So, I think I will start at the very beginning, and study as much as I like after I have read my passage for the day. The studying portion will, of course, move at a much slower pace, but perhaps it will benefit me more. Perhaps studying everything once will have the same affect on my understanding and retention as reading it ten times through.

Do you have any ideas on reading or studying the Word of God? What method do you use? What changes would you like to make?

8 responses to “Bible Study vs. Bible Reading

  1. I do both. I read as a matter of devotional practice–to immerse my heart and mind in the truth of Scripture and I study daily as a matter both of vocation and edification. I tend to place a higher priority on studying because the words I read have meaning and ideas have consequences so I REALLY enjoy diving in on a regular basis. I approach study in a rather systematic way though and admittedly it is not something everyone can or should do 😀 I like your ideas about reading it through. I’ve known many believers who’ve claimed Jesus as Savior for more than 20 years but have not read the entire bible through and incidentally fall for every wind of doctrine.

    • I am wondering how I should approach Bible study with Ian. Right now we are doing the studying together. (Jesse has been joining us lately too.) We are reading through “Begin” (Ham). I’m not sure which direction to go after that, but I want it to consist primarily of the the word of God, with a few thoughts, explanations, cross-references, or questions thrown in. We have been using the PDFs you sent us, and they are a great place to start. Not sure if we will study in chronological order or pick topics or epistles, etc.
      You mentioned vocation: I’m thinking that, as a future missionary, the “study” aspect might need a higher priority in Ian’s life too. I’d like to get him independently studying, but as this is a relatively new phase for him, we’re taking it slow.

      • I am really glad those PDF’s are helpful (they are not exhaustive though). They are just a stepping off point to get people to think more deeply and critically in the way they read/handle Scripture or topics. If your church has a “statement of faith” or “confession” you might consider going through it point by point and use it as a catechism so to speak so he might have a deeper understanding of what we believe and why we believe it? Just a thought.

        You and Jesse know Ian better than anyone so trust your instinct as to what direction to take him.

        My training has been to really take to heart the words in their literal, historical, and grammatical sense, according to what the words actually mean and the message conveyed to the original audience. I think this is important because as I said, ideas have consequences. We owe it to ourselves and to the community we have been called to serve as a prophetic voice in, to sound the clarion call.

        My preference is to do book studies such as (Mark, James, Galatians, Romans etc…) The reason is because it forces the reader to acknowledge the historical, geographical, political, social, and spiritual distinctions between the biblical audience and the contemporary one. In other words we have to consider things like “idiom” or “metaphor” “symbolism” etc… in that context, to understand what or how it is intended to mean/apply to us. All of that might be WAY too much at this early stage. I think it’s awesome that you are all studying and reading together. When you feel like he is ready, I have some more resources I can put in your hands or I can maybe help him out down the road if you think that would be appropriate and beneficial.

      • Thank you so much! Yes, I’d like for you all to spend some time together, but I’ve been thinking very hard about that. I don’t want to push him off on a few godly men just for them to deal with him for an hour or so. I don’t want it to seem like babysitting, lol. However, I am going to start looking for godly men who might need a hand in ministry (like visiting a nursing home) or perhaps who are needing some company or help while actually doing work (such as changing oil in a car or whatever). I want him to learn the principles of hard work and getting your hands dirty, especially when it comes to ministry.

        I had also considered book studies, such as “Romans,” “Acts,” etc. Do you have a favorite series, publisher, etc?

      • I certainly wouldn’t think you were pawning him off for a babysitting gig. I don’t think of it as having to “deal with him” either (as if he is a burden). Ian is a fantastic young man and you are doing an excellent job being parents. I look at it more as an investment in a future leader and truthfully it is very humbling to think that I would even have the opportunity to do something so cool. Well I spend TONS of time in Scripture and at nursing homes etc… that is an option but we would have to jump through a hoop or two to do the latter because of Hippa laws. When I get back if he wants to get together to learn something/study etc…I’d be very happy and honored to help.

        I do my own book studies using the resources I have (academic as well as from practitioners and the training I’ve received). However, there are some GREAT studies that you can get online for very little money. Here is a local church pastor that I have used for some of my Sunday School teachers etc…

        The “Journey of a Lifetime” takes you through the entire bible and the studies are only like 4-5 pages long so you learn a lot.

        I will email you a document I had to memorize for my ordination. LOL It is a confession of faith. What I like about it is that there is a statement then tons of Scripture where the statement is allegedly “supported.” The goal obviously in study is to make sure the statement is ACTUALLY supported by the Scriptures used. It’s fun!

      • Awesome! Thank you so much!

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