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Three Easy Ways to Understand More During Bible Study

Updated on January 27, 2016
kbdressman profile image

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, 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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    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 15 months ago from Harlem, New York

      Perspycacious, that sounds like a great resource! I'll have to look into it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! The chronology, setting and cultures of the bible is definitely something one could write volumes and volumes on, so I can see why it's a large book!

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 15 months ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      I found The Daily Bible (published by Guideposts) to be very informative. It is arranged "In Chronological Order" including (at the back) a "Chronology Of Significant Events" a list of "Topical Contents for the Book of Proverbs" and a "Cross Reference Index" designed to take readers to the right page for each book's chapters, and the verses of those chapters.

      Each important historical setting is described, and there is good scholarly commentary throughout by Dr. Prof. F. LaGard Smith for this New International Version.

      One Caution: If you are thinking of giving the Large Print Edition's 1,714 pages to an elderly person, make sure they can handle its almost three pounds.

    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 2 years ago from Harlem, New York

      Thanks for the additional resource, serenityjmiller! I'll have to check it out!

    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 2 years ago from Harlem, New York

      If you're interested, the LDS church provides institute manuals that goes into depth on bible. They're available here:

    • serenityjmiller profile image

      Serenity Miller 2 years ago from Brookings, SD

      Peachpurple, I highly recommend the Life Application Study Bible (New International Version). This study Bible changed everything for my husband and me when we were trying to grasp God's Word for the first time. It contains notes for almost every verse that explain the original context as well as what the Scripture means for our lives today. I bought a Kindle version for my mother, and I use a hardcover copy for my Biblical Studies program. By far, this was the most helpful aid early in my faith walk.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i download bible reading and find them useful when I am bored but I wish there is a explaination for each chapter

    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 2 years ago from Harlem, New York

      Tarik, I 'm glad you enjoyed it. You make a great point about not taking things too literally. Even if something literally happened, thinking about the symbolism and why the author described it the way he did is a great way to learn on a deeper level. For example, was Eve literally made from Adam's rib? Probably not. But whether it was or not, the rib was chosen to show that Adam and Eve were to walk side by side, that Eve was to be the closest thing to Adam's heart and that Eve was to protect Adam's heart. Those are valuable ideas that can be applied to our marriages and lives today, while whether or not the rib is literal or figurative doesn't really hold that much significance for us as far as application is concerned.

      You'll have to let me know how the bible journal turns out. I've had great success with mine and it's a lot of fun and/or enlightening to go back and read it later!

    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 2 years ago from Harlem, New York

      I'm glad you enjoyed it, serenityjmiller! I'd definitely be interested to read about what you learned in your bachelor degree program! There's quite a lot to learn about the bible and how to study it.

    • profile image

      Tarik LaCour 2 years ago

      Great topic Katie. One other thing to add would be that the Bible should not be seen through a fundamentalist lens; in other words while the Bible is inspired scripture one should not look at it as entirerly literal.

      The Bible journal idea is an impressive one, as I am currently studying the Bible I will have to look into that.

    • serenityjmiller profile image

      Serenity Miller 2 years ago from Brookings, SD

      Great topic! I'm finishing up my bachelor degree in Biblical Studies this September, and one of the first emphases of the program was on applying inductive Bible study techniques. Much of what you've written here resonates with the methodologies I've learned at the university level. Nicely done!