How to Begin

God’s Word can change your heart and transform your life. The Bible wasn’t written to be merely history or a piece of great literature. It is meant to be read with both the mind and heart. God loves you and wants you to love him. As Deuteronomy 8:3 reminds us, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Studying the Bible does not mean becoming an expert in one passage or book. It means we dig deeply so we can be deeply transformed. The more we know about God, the more we can love him.

God gave the Bible to the church. Reading and studying the Bible in community is very rewarding. Share what you’ve learned with others. Their questions will challenge you to pray and study more to find the answers.

“Read it through; pray it in; live it out; pass it on.”

—George Gritter

Basic Tips for Bible Study

Plan a Study Time

Decide on a quiet time and place to study God’s Word and make it a daily habit, like eating. Some people get up early to spend time with God. Others study during the day or evening.

Pray

Ask God to help you understand his Word. Pray using your own words or something like this: “Lord, thank you for the Bible, which teaches us who you are and what you want for our lives. Please help me understand it and do what you want me to do.” In Jeremiah 33:3, God promises: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Read and Re-read It

The Bible is the most important letter you can ever receive—a message from the God of the universe who made you, loves you, and wants to communicate with you. Open your “love letter” every day. Re-read each chapter and verse several times.

Know the Author

Read Genesis to learn about the God who created the world. All Scripture is inspired by God. God actually visited Earth in the form of man—the man Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Read the Gospel of John to learn about God’s plan for you.

Take Notes

Write notes about what you read. Use a specific notebook or journal especially for Bible study. The four steps of inductive Bible study will help you look at God's word and discover how it applies to you. You might want to underline key verses or write notes in the margin of your Bible.

Make the Bible Your Authority

Accept and believe that what the Bible says is true. You may not understand everything in the Bible, but obey and apply what you do understand.

Seven Ways to Read the Bible

❶ Prayerfully

Before you begin, ask God to speak. Ask him for “ears to hear.”

❷ Expectantly

Believe that God wants to speak to you, even more than you want to hear from him. Then be alert for his voice.

❸ Devotionally

See your Bible reading as personal time with God rather than an assignment to learn new information about God.

❹ Slowly

Don’t be in a rush. Linger. Savor the words.

❺ Comprehensively

Read through a whole book of the Bible. Don’t ignore big sections of Scripture. Consider reading the entire Bible cover to cover. That’s the best way to get the truest sense of who God is, and what his story is about.

❻ Regularly

Exercising once every three weeks is better than nothing, but it isn’t likely to get you in great physical condition. In the same way, occasional Bible reading isn’t the optimal way to cultivate your relationship with God or prepare for helping others know God.

❼ Obediently

Always read with a mind-set of “I will do whatever God commands.”

Become Familiar with the Bible

Memorize the order of the books of the Bible.

The Old Testament

Pentateuch Poetry & Wisdom Prophetic
Genesis Job Major
Exodus Psalms Isaiah
Leviticus Proverbs Jeremiah
Numbers Ecclesiastes Lamentations
Deuteronomy Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) Ezekiel
Daniel
Historical Minor
Joshua Hosea
Judges Joel
Ruth Amos
1 Samuel Obadiah
2 Samuel Jonah
1 Kings Micah
2 Kings Nahum
1 Chronicles Habakkuk
2 Chronicles Zephaniah
Ezra Haggai
Nehemiah Zechariah
Esther Malachi

New Testament

Gospels Pauline Epistles General Epistles
Matthew Romans Hebrews
Mark 1 Corinthians James
Luke 2 Corinthians 1 Peter
John Galatians 2 Peter
Ephesians 1 John
Acts (of the Apostles) Philippians 2 John
Colossians 3 John
1 Thessalonians Jude
2 Thessalonians Revelation
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Titus
Philemon

Learn how to read Bible references.

For example: Psalm 23:2

Psalm = Name of letter or book

23: = chapter

:2 = verse

Know the type of book you’re reading.

Is it a book about history, poetry or wisdom literature, a book by a prophet, one of the four Gospels, the book of Acts, or an epistle (letter)?

Reflect on Scripture daily.

Reflection (also called meditation) means that we allow the Bible to settle in our minds and hearts. We do this by thinking about it all day long, wondering what a passage or a verse means for us throughout the day’s activities.

Write a verse or passage on a small piece of paper and carry it along with you. If you are standing in line, waiting at a restaurant, or have another free moment, take the paper out and think about how the text connects to your life at that specific time.

Memorize Bible verses.

When scuba divers face problems underwater, they rely on their previous training to find a way out. When we face temptation or sudden grief, our “training” will kick in. All those Bible verses we have memorized will come back. God will speak to us through them in unexpected ways.

One of the best ways to memorize something is by finding partners who help and challenge you to work together.

How to Choose a Bible Version

There are many different Bible translations to choose from. Find a version that is most helpful for the type of Bible study you will be doing.

There are three main methods of Bible translation:

There is also paraphrasing, which is slightly different than translation.

Word-for-Word

Scholars attempt to translate each word based upon the word usage at the time of the writing. This is the strictest translation method. No translation is actually word-for-word, but the intent of this method is to come as close as possible.

Examples:

Balance

A middle balance between a word-for-word and thought-for-thought approach. This is a happy medium, intended to create a translation that is close to the original and also readable.

Examples:

Thought-for-Thought (also known as “Dynamic Equivalence”)

Scholars translate the meaning of each thought. This is a looser translation method, which is great for ease of reading.

Examples:

Paraphrase

This is a restatement of a translation in modern terms and vocabulary, often expanded (or “amplified”) for clarity. This method is not intended to be a direct translation, but is easy for modern-day readers to understand and connect with.

Example:

Take a look at the chart on the next page to see a well-known passage handled all four ways. Each method is valuable, and as you can see, they often have more in common than not. Choose the one that best fits your needs.

Translation Method John 3:16–17
Word-for-Word (NASB) For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
Balance (NIV) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Thought-for-Thought (NLT) For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
Paraphrase (MSG) This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

Overview of popular English Bible versions

Translation Year* Type Description
King James Version (KJV) 1611, 1769 Word-for-word Used by adults who prefer the English found in older versions.
American Standard Version (ASV) 1901 Word-for-word Very formal. Used for serious Bible study.
Revised Standard Version (RSV) 1952, 1971 Word-for-word Based on the ASV
Amplified Bible (AMP) 1965, 2015 Word-for-word, plus amplification of meaning Uses a unique system of punctuation, typefaces, and synonyms (in parentheses) to more fully explain words.
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) 1966, 1985 Word-for-word Typically used by Roman Catholics for serious Bible study. Includes the Apocrypha.
New American Bible (NAB) 1970, 1986, 1991 Word-for-word Official translation used in U.S. Catholic Church Mass. Includes the Apocrypha.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) 1971, 1995 Word-for-word Used by adults for serious Bible study.
Good News Translation (GNT) 1976, 1992 Thought-for-thought Used by children and believers for whom English is not their first language.
New International Version (NIV) 1978, 1984, 2011 Balance Modern translation aimed to be acceptable to many denominations. Currently the best-selling Bible version.
New King James Version (NKJV) 1982 Word-for-word Modern language translation to maintain the structure and beauty of the KJV.
New Century Version (NCV) 1987, 1991 Thought-for-thought Uses footnotes to clarify ancient customs. Used by children, teenagers, and adults for personal devotional reading.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1989 Word-for-word Revision of the RSV using information gathered from newly discovered Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
Contemporary English Version (CEV) 1995 Thought-for-thought Recommended for children and people who do not speak English as their first language.
God’s Word Translation (GW) 1995 Balance Translated by a committee of biblical scholars and English reviewers to ensure accurate, natural English.
New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) 1996, 1998, 2014 Thought-for-thought Simple words and short sentences to appeal to a lower reading level.
New Living Translation (NLT) 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 Thought-for-thought Easy-to-read modern version.
English Standard Version (ESV) 2001 Word-for-word Derived from the RSV. Used by teenagers and adults for serious Bible study.
The Message (MSG) 2002 Paraphrase Re-creates the common language in which the Bible was written into today’s common language.
Christian Standard Bible (CSB) 2004, 2017 Balance Used by teenagers and adults for personal devotions and Bible study. Revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
Common English Bible (CEB) 2011 Balance Diverse team of translators from 22 faith traditions in American, African, Asian, European, and Latino communities.
*Year complete Bible translation was released and later revisions