Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How We Study the Bible

Here at the blog, we always encourage our readers to be in the Word as much as they can. What better topic for a post than reading the bible?

Today, some of us here at the blog are going to share our approach to bible reading. We hope you are encouraged by these comments. None of us believe we have the perfect approach. But, hopefully, if you're looking for some ideas, you'll get some.


My bible reading is influenced by the fact that I teach every week. That means that what I teach, I study. Even in the summer months, as I plan ahead, I'm reading what I will ultimately teach.

Starting on Monday, I read the passage every day, about four or five times.  For each passage, I make up a worksheet which has the text on it in two versions, side by side. I use the ESV myself, but my students prefer the NIV. I just copy and paste from Bible Gateway, make nice wide margins and extra spacing, and that is where I begin my notes. Sometimes, I will do what is called "phrasing," but not every time. It's really time consuming, and I don't always have time. It is very beneficial, though, because it makes me slow down. I use a couple of commentaries to help me understand things I'm uncertain of. My goal in the first few days as I study is to be careful and slow, seeing the relationships between words, paragraphs and sections.

It's been quite a while since I read through the bible in a year, and this year I was inspired to do so after reading Tim Challies' blog, recommending God's Glory In Salvation Through Judgement.  I don't always get to that reading every day, but I play catch up on Sundays. I also read the Psalms daily, using a morning and evening schedule from The Common Book of Prayer.  Reading the Psalms feeds into my prayer time.

I do my bible study in the morning because my mind is well-rested. On some days, I take half an hour in the late afternoon to finish the Psalm readings for the day. Not everyone prefers morning reading, and I think it's a mistake to insist that it's the perfect time. My husband is not a morning person, and he prefers to read at night. The more important thing is to find the right time and place where one can be free from distractions.


Except for when I’m reading something purely for entertainment, I am a very slow reader because I don’t want to miss anything. I’m even slower with my Bible reading. I usually read 4 or 5 verses a day (or even fewer), paying particular attention to the connections between words and the flow of the argument. I also circle the key words and often do a little research to see how the author of the book I’m reading tends to use a specific word. If I have a commentary on the book I’m reading, I’ll read what that says about the passage.

I've also done a little Bible arcing, particularly for the gospel of John. Like phrasing, arcing takes a lot of time, so I've abandoned it, but I would like to pick it up again someday.

In the past year or so I’ve worked my way slowly through John, Hebrews, Romans, and Ephesians. Right now I’m reading/studying the second chapter of 1 Peter. Since most of my reading in recent years has been in the New Testament, when I finish 1 Peter I plan to move on to something in the Old Testament.

I’ve read through the whole Bible in a year a few times. While it was useful for me to do it in order to get an overview of scripture,  I’ll probably never do it again. That kind of reading is a real chore for me. I enjoy my Bible reading much more when I’m not rushing through.

Unlike Kim, I study in the evening, because in my home, it’s the evenings that are quiet. One problem with studying the Bible in the evening is that can I get busy or tired and my Bible reading gets pushed off until tomorrow. This happens more frequently than I want to admit.


My Bible reading/study is constantly evolving. Even my original plan for this year has changed, because a friend recommended the study Behold Your God. After viewing the introductory video, I shared it with my husband. We knew this study would be a great fit for our family and we just started it this week.

During the week, I spend my morning study time working through Behold Your God. I plan to spend Saturday mornings reading through the Gospels, with a commentary as as reading companion. I probably read at a pace somewhere between Rebecca and Kim, so I expect to finish two of the Gospels this year.

On Sundays I like to review the Scripture from our sermon, again with a commentary as a reading companion. (We are currently studying Exodus, which is one reason I've chosen to study in the New Testament on my own.)

Each evening I finish out the day with New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional and the Scripture passage listed for further study. Ironic, I know; but it works best for me.

Getting back into a guided Bible study has made me realize how much of a benefit it is for me. When I finish Behold Your God, I will probably begin The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books by Nancy Guthrie. I imagine the rest of my reading will continue as I've outlined here, but I'm always open to change.


I've given up trying to read the entire Bible every year. While I think it's very important to read through all 66 books, too often this has lead to my skimming the passage as quickly as possible so I can check the box. Consequently, I don't have a self-imposed deadline for my current reading/study. I read a passage in the morning along with the morning portion from Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This allows me to consider what I read throughout the day and do more digging in the evening, which works better for my schedule. It's also rather settling for my soul to go to bed having just been in the Word. Am I always consistent? No, but I push on.

I am currently reading through the Old Testament chronologically. This was inspired by my pastor's current sermon series on Genesis, which has been tracing God's promise of the coming Messiah throughout this book. I am taking up this same theme but extending it to the whole OT. I've read The Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy to get the big picture of the OT. I'm also reading From Paradise to the Promised Land: Tracing the Main Themes of the Pentateuch by T. Desmond Alexander. Alexander's book unpacks themes such as Abraham's faith, Passover, the Sinai covenant, and the Tabernacle and connects them to the New Testament. He also provides recommendations for commentaries and other resources for further study. I am currently in Exodus, so we will see whether I finish the OT this year or not.


A couple of years ago, I read through the Bible in 90 days. Apart from the time I read through the Bible chronologically, it was one of the most helpful things for my understanding of the Bible I'd ever done. I realized then that reading large chunks of Scripture was more helpful for me.

I've always been a big picture thinker. I can't really absorb details until I have a good overview. I tend to retain more by reading at a faster pace and then going back to it in a few months.

For the last couple of years, I've followed Professor Horner's Bible Reading System. In this plan, I read a chapter from several sections of the Bible each day. When I finish a section I start it again. For instance, if I don't miss any days, I read through the Gospels in 3 months (although it usually takes me closer to four). Reading through the prophets takes at least 8 months (but actually more like ten). As you can see, I miss days here and there. If I'm short on time, I just read a few of the chapters and don't worry about the whole list.

I've seen some interesting connections reading different chapters side by side. And since all the sections go at a different pace, I don't ever read the same chapters together. I return to the same sections every few months, and I pick up new details every time.

I usually read in the morning. If I don't get it done early it usually doesn't get done.

This isn't for everyone. Most people, like my friends, do better zeroing in on smaller sections. I'm a fairly fast reader, and my kids are old enough that they don't need much help in the morning. I doubt I could have managed this when my kids were small. But at this stage of life, with my current schedule, it works well for me.


It occurred to me that perhaps some of our readers would like to share some of their bible reading habits. If you would like to add something in the comments, that would be great, and I think others would benefit from it as well.


  1. I've begun reading the same book 20x's. It can get mundane, but after a while, you begin to see patterns and other things you didn't see before. It is great! (especially for smaller books.)

  2. Thank you for this. Do you have suggestions for moms of young kids who have a hard time putting together a coherent sentence, some days, let alone Bible Study? :-) Time is hard to come by, but I"m finding that even when I do have the time my brain power is lacking.

    Emily F.

    1. Emily, my suggestion would be to read the Psalms. Most of them are short enough and contained units, with the exception of Psalm 119. I think what you want, more than anything, is the Scripture itself. Don't be too concerned with the notion of deep study. Just begin with getting the word in.

    2. Emily, a Word-centered devotional that gives you much to think on in a short amount of time is a good starting point. Persis mentioned Spurgeon's "Morning & Evening", which is excellent. "New Morning Mercies" by Paul Tripp (link in the post) is another. "Voices from the Past" is another solid choice. Each lists the Scripture passage the devotion is based on, or a passage for further study, so that you can read the Word yourself.

      The other ladies may have better ideas, but this was my first thought.

    3. It's tough to do Bible study when you have very young kids! The only thing I can add to what the others have said is not to expect too much of yourself. You can begin dreading Bible reading if it become too much of a chore for you.

      Read a short passage whenever you can manage it. When your kids are big enough, read from a children's Bible with them.

    4. I agree with Rebecca about reading a children's Bible. Also a children's catechism gives small doses of theology and, depending on the catechism, may have the texts or text references. Listening to the scripture is also another option.

    5. Thank you for all the suggestions!

  3. Although I have been a Christian for a long time now, I've not been consistent in reading my Bible since I was in college and it was assigned (and even then, I know I skimmed lots of books). I would read occasionally, of course, and to my children, and at church, but never a consistent personal study. Last summer my husband suggested we both read through the Bible in a year, so we found McCheyne's Bible plan and I created a spreadsheet with customizable dates, instead of starting in January. We realized that we needed to bet against our future selves, who we could see abandoning this goal quickly, so we decided to tie our Bible reading to entertainment: We would not allow ourselves any media (TV or internet--I knew the threat of no facebook would keep me motivated!) until our reading was done for the day. Sometimes we read ahead so the following days are free--we do that especially before days we can predict will have busy mornings. And also, neither one of us are jerks if we forget and surf the internet first, but we always catch up.

    1. I love the way you and your husband are working together on this.

  4. I have never kept up a "Read thru the Bible in a Year" program for more than one week before this year. Granted it is the beginning of March, but two months in, I'm still at it. I found in this past year that I pay much more attention to a reading if I am listening to it and reading along at the same time. I am using "ESV: Daily Reading Bible" podcasts. The written text is right with it. I then look up the readings in The MacArthur Bible Commentary on my e-reader. I get behind a few days sometimes, but catch up. If necessary, I could skip the commentary readings. The podcasts take about 13-20 minutes to listen to. It will go through the OT once, and the NT and Psalms twice. So far, so good.

  5. This year I have started with smaller books and I am reading them 20 times each. I've done James because I am teaching from it and now reading Ezra which my Pastor is preaching through. I've slowed through Ezra for some reason but thus far has seen that it is beneficial to read that many times.

  6. I find it interesting that several of you have stopped reading the Bible through in a year, since I just assumed we were ALL supposed to do that all the time, forever! Not that that would be wrong! I've done several methods as well, including chronological and Prof. Horner's method, both of which I liked, but now I would like to do a more indepth study on my own, and The Wisdom of God sounds good. Melissa, are you planning to do this on your own, or in a group? It seems to be set up for a group study, but I would like to do it on my own.

    1. Georgia Peach, I'll be doing the study on my own, without the DVDs. I find Nancy Guthrie gives more than enough material in the workbook to make solo study profitable.

  7. What a great idea for a blogpost! It's so interesting to hear all the different ways everyone studies - Now that the kids are gone and it's quiet, my study habits have changed a lot. I study in the mornings because I have trouble concentrating later in the day. I'm currently in the OT historical books and I always take my time - I'm not a fast reader. I hate leaving any stone unturned which gets me off on rabbit trails- I almost always use at least one if not several commentaries and I'll use word studies when I'm curious about something..

  8. I value reading the Bible through for a number of reasons: it keeps me balanced, keeps me from going into tangents, helps me understand passages in context, brings nuggets to my attention that I would likely never come across otherwise. But I do not do so in a year anymore, for the reasons that others mentioned: it felt too rushed and there was too much temptation to just read and check off the box for the day. So I still read it through, but at my own pace. Some days I might read 2-3 chapters, in some of the heavier books, like the prophets, I only read a chapter at a time. This year I am using the MacArthur Study Bible; one time before I used Warren Wiersbe's With the Word as an aid. In between books I might do a word study or read a Bible study type of book.

    Tim Challies had a post a while back, I think titled something like Intimacy vs. Familiarity, about the value of reading large chunks as an overview vs.zeroing in on smaller portions. Both are valuable. That's one reason I go back and forth between reading straight through and then a more intense study. When I was attending a church where the pastor preached very detailed expositional sermons through a book, I felt my more general overview reading complemented that. Pastors I have had since then aren't that detailed, so I have felt the need for a more concentrated study at times.

    My best time is first thing in the morning. My schedule works better that way and my thinking is clearest then. When I had small children at home, I had to go with the "anything is better than nothing" approach and read whenever I could find a couple of minutes to, and even though it wasn't as concentrated as I normally like my time in the Word to be, God met me in those few scattered minutes when that's all I had just like He did in longer, deeper times.