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Three Easy Ways to Understand More During Bible Study

Updated on January 27, 2016
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Katie has been a member of the LDS Church since her baptism at age 8. She graduated from Seminary, the Institute of Religion, and BYU.

The Short Answer of How to Get More Out of Your Bible Reading

How do you get more out of your bible study? You put more into it.

The rest of the article will address HOW to put more into your scripture study, which will allow you to get more out of your scripture study.

The Holy Bible

Understanding the bible as literature and the historical and geographical context in which the characters lived is important to understanding the bible.
Understanding the bible as literature and the historical and geographical context in which the characters lived is important to understanding the bible. | Source

Why Scripture Study Requires More Effort Than Just Reading

The Bible is a book that contains a collection of books which record the history, prophecies and doctrines of ancient peoples and prophets and their dealings with God.

The truths found in this book and the wisdom that can be gained by likening the experiences of the characters of this book to our own situations are invaluable to modern day Christians, Muslims and Jews. However, millennia, language barriers, and an unfamiliarity with the history, geography and lifestyles of the peoples discussed in the books makes it difficult for modern readers to find these truths without a little extra effort.

Learn the History and Geography of the Bible

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Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, Israel

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Understanding where the events took place and the historical context surrounding them makes them much more meaningful and tangible.

Create a Context in Which to Understand the Bible

Gaining a working understanding of your biblical characters and the time and places they lived in is invaluable to a deeper understanding of the bible. Consider making biography sheets on important characters. They don’t have to be fancy. You could do this on 3x5 cards, lined paper or in a word processor. Find what works for you. Identify where in the bible each person is discussed and synthesize as much biographical information as you can from the text. Consider looking up the locations of relevant cities. Do a little research and learn what scholars have determined about the time in which each character lived or wrote. Get to know the characters on a personal level and try to see their stories and writings from their perspective. As you do so you’ll gain valuable insight.

As you make your character sheets, make a timeline of events. Use scholarly research to get a basic understanding of relevant Jewish and Ancient Near Eastern History. As you do so, previously difficult passages will make more sense because you’ll have a context in which to analyze them. This is especially helpful for the Minor and Major Prophets sections of the bible.

Get a map and track the travels of important characters and the location of important events. Identify the relative locations of important empires, states and peoples. As you do this, you’ll gain a better grasp of the magnitude of events that occurred and they’ll begin to feel more real or more tangible.

Do some research on the lifestyles and politics of the various peoples mentioned in the bible and their relationships with each other. Understanding the agrarian and/or nomadic lifestyles of these people will illuminate passages that mention various bugs and animals, specific plants, and agricultural technology, techniques and locations. You’ll also come to understand the relationships between specific rulers and religious leaders and the bigger issues that caused some of the smaller skirmishes in the bible.

One of My Favorite Biblical Images

Christ saying He will gather us as a chicken gathers her chicks under her wings is one of my favorite images in the bible.  Not only is the image beautiful, but it showed that Christ knew the people He was talking to and that He cares about them.
Christ saying He will gather us as a chicken gathers her chicks under her wings is one of my favorite images in the bible. Not only is the image beautiful, but it showed that Christ knew the people He was talking to and that He cares about them. | Source

Use Literary Devices and Tools to Understand the Bible

The Bible we have today has been translated several times, which can make passages difficult to read. It also means that passages in the versions of the bible we have today read differently than the original text. Reading a passage in more than one version of the bible can be illuminating as different nuances are emphasized or completely different translations are given. While this will help address some of the issues of the biblical translation it also bring up more questions that require more pondering, more versions of the bible and more research. These questions can be invaluable tools to learning more about the bible and coming to understand it more fully.

Learn enough about the basic literary devices of the Ancient Near Eastern people that you can identify them as you read. Find articles that describe literary devices that scholars can analyze in Hebrew scripts that are lost in translation. Understanding these devices will help you connect with the author on a more intimate level and will emphasize the message the author was trying to portray. Ancient Near Eastern writers used literary devices to emphasize specific parts of the text. Without an understanding of these devices, the artistry and meaning is lost on the modern reader.

Look for symbols and take the time to digest the imagery. Sections like the sacrifice descriptions in Leviticus become much less tedious when you stop to ask questions like what the priest was symbolizing in each sacrifice. Or what symbolism was the person offering sacrifice supposed to be aware of when he performed the rituals related to a specific sacrifice. Stopping to ponder the details of previously tedious passages produces beautiful, moving images and understandings. In addition, now that you have an understanding of the lifestyles of the biblical peoples, the images used by prophets like Isaiah should be easier to understand. Take the time to make mental pictures of the images and really digest them. The power of these passages is greatly intensified when the imagery means more to the reader than confusing words on the page.

Have Personal Experiences with the Bible

Take questions and problems from your own life to the bible. Look for passages that suggest solutions. Ask yourself how the characters you read about would respond to your situation and what you can learn from your answer. You might learn what not to do to solve your problem several times before you learn what you should do, but each eliminated alternative is one step closer to an answer!

Seek to emulate the positive attributes described about characters and avoid making the same mistakes they did. Ask yourself how you can use each passage to make you a better person. Frequently ask yourself why each passage was included. Writing wasn’t easy in ancient times. Nothing was recorded by mistake. Why did the authors and the redactors find what they included important enough to include? What did they want you to learn or know?

Apply what you read to your life. Don’t just read the text as a 3rd party reading a transcribed and translated account millennia after the fact, try to imagine that you are part of the scene or actually talking to the prophet prophesying. As it becomes a personal experience your heart will be open to the tender mercies that can be gained from focused bible study.

Write in a Bible Journal

As you learn about the history, geography, literature, culture, politics and characters of the bible, record what impresses you so you can review it later. Writing down knowledge gained today makes it easier to build on tomorrow. Failing to write it down increases the chances that you will quickly forget it and prevents making new connections to that knowledge as you continue to learn.

Writing also brings new insights and helps you digest things of spiritual import. It makes it easier for you to review years in the future when your understanding of today may have dimmed and need rekindling. And, it becomes a neat way to share what you’re learning with other people should you desire to do so.

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