Bible Basics
a Bible Study Course published by the Churches of God

Lesson 1: How to Study the Bible

read this first...

Bible Basics is designed to introduce readers to the teachings of the Christian Bible.

Too often the Bible is used as a weapon - to tear down another's beliefs, to vindicate our own ideas. Rarely is it viewed as a guide to everyday living. Rarely is it seen as a standard by which "I" can measure the quality of my own life. And rarely studied as God's "instruction manual" for our lives.

Bible Basics will weave these concepts into each lesson. We hope you will study to catch a clearer image of the God who created us and who reveals Himself through the pages of the Bible. That you will also study to discover what the Bible says on all those theological ideas that are assumed to be "from the Bible" but which are based largely on human tradition - ideas which can be eternally harmful. And that you will study primarily to find the way to life eternal.

It is our intent to approach the study of the Scriptures in a straightforward way, certainly drawing on scholarship but focusing on the application to our daily life of what we consider to be the very Word of God.

Our approach on most topics will be

  • a brief introduction
  • a series of questions
  • appropriate Bible texts with comment

But first we begin with some suggestions about the basic "tools" of Bible study. How can you find specific texts? What basic aids to study are available - and do you need them? How can you better recall what you study? Is it useful to take notes? Should you "mark" your Bible?


A few days after reading a piece of text, most of us will remember a mere one-tenth of what we studied. And that's only if we have been observing carefully! By contrast, actually carrying out a procedure - action - so affects us that we are likely to recall perhaps eighty percent.

In our study of the Bible, then, we need to pay attention to the how. This brief introduction is to give some basic reminders, for it has been a while since most of us were in school. We can take certain steps to impress our studies on our mind. This introduction is a knife and fork to help "cut the meat" - to help us tackle our study of the Scriptures.

To summarize:

  • Precede study by a short prayer-time, asking for insight (see Psalm 119:18). This helps focus the mind.
  • Set aside a special time for study, preferably more than three times a week - better, every day. Suit your own needs, but 35-45 minutes per session is usually enough. Consistency and sticking to it is more important.
  • Have as few distractions as possible: dog, empty tum, noise, children . (It is, however, good if a family study session can be organized in parallel to private study.)
  • Assemble your "tools": Bibles, concordance, Bible commentary and dictionary, pens, color pencils, study sources - and notebook.
  • We suggest an A4 loose-leaf notebook, as it can easily be added to. You can also insert news clippings etc, and add extra pages for later study.

Let's look in more detail at a couple of points


Most serious study should be from the King James Version (KJV) for reasons we will discuss in the second lesson. But it is useful to have other versions for comparison: Moffatt, New International and Phillips have useful insights; but be careful with any paraphrase (e.g. the Living Bible) which can be misleading at times (though the Living Bible is very readable for devotional purposes as in Psalms or the Prophets). If you can learn to recognize Greek, a New Testament in that language can be helpful.

Be careful when you chance on a translation of a passage that doesn't gel with what you already understand. Check it out in the commentaries and other versions - and with other serious Bible students.


There are literally hundreds of these. But fear not - you can get along on a select few tailored to your pocket. It would be helpful to get friendly with your local second-hand bookseller. But note that all the Bible aids in the world won't get you into the Kingdom. It's the application of God 's Word in our daily walk that counts.


A must, for they list most Bible words and are an index to them. Crudens is the most basic but it doesn't separate words according to their original.

For example, it doesn't differentiate between hell = grave (hades), and hell = lake of fire (Gehenna). Another example: many new Bible students are startled when they examine the original Hebrew and Greek original words for soul. More useful titles are Young's Analytical Concordance and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. If you can read the original text, the Englishman's Greek and the Englishman's Hebrew concordances are very helpful. If you are "into computers" several instant concordances are available on disk. But if you are not a language student you can adequately discern the meaning with the simpler tools.


If you don't have easy access to a well-stocked Public Library - and even if you do - try to "collect" a couple of these. For most purposes the IVF's New Bible Commentary and New Bible Dictionary are adequate. Up the scale is the two-volume Marshall-Pickering Encyclopaedia of the Bible. [Your local Church library may have similar titles.]

Other useful helps are a BIBLE ATLAS, BIBLE HANDBOOK (e.g. Halley's, Lion, Peloubet) and similar titles. If you can't afford such books encourage someone to buy them for you as a gift!


Earlier it was suggested that you use an A4 (or 8 "x11") loose-leaf notebook. For you are sure to forget much unless notes are taken of your study.

A helpful study aid is to "remember the IRA ":


It is a useful memory key. Concentrate on the subject in hand, really letting it make an impression on you. Repeat it often by reviewing your notes. And thoughtfully associate the subject matter with material already learned.

Taking notes is an aid to all three! It may sound a chore, but will greatly enhance your learning curve, your understanding and your recall, thus making your study time so much more productive.

Rule a 2" margin on each loose-leaf page - for Scripture references and "codes". These codes can range from an * or an ! to the use of key-words (e.g. prayer, law, prophecy), numbers and a variety of color codes. Tie them in with the same codes used in marking your Bible. They help you when reviewing your notes - which you are recommended to do at the end of each study session, next day and even a week or so later!


Some readers may be a bit nervous about writing in the Bible - most Bibles look new ten years after purchase! However, your Bible simply records God's Word in a format we can profitably use, and the material book is an important aspect of study. If carefully and thoughtfully annotated you will find it a big help as your studies progress.

If you can afford it obtain a wide-margin Bible to give room for your marginal notes and references.

In using color to mark your Bible, be careful to use dry color - e.g. color pencils - to prevent ugly seepage through the page. And if you want to color a large section of text it looks better if you simply rule a line in the margin alongside the text, in the appropriate color.

Your personal study notes - in both notebook and Bible can grow into a useful reference work, tailored to your own special interests - invaluable for your own understanding of Scripture and useful in helping to explain your faith to others (I Peter 3:15). They build into a personal Bible Commentary.

But remember: all your study will be pointless if you don't put it into practice! For the study of the Bible is no mere academic exercise.

It concerns the matter of living for ever.

Principles of Bible Study

You are settled at the table for your first study - so what's the next step? Here you are, faced with a library of sixty-six books. It all looks so daunting. Most folk when "studying the Bible" simply pick it up, let it fall open, and read. There are occasions when this may be the best thing to do. But it's not study. You can vary the type of study you do depending on the needs of the moment. The Bible is a rich treasure-chest of information - spiritual, practical, imparting true wisdom. It's worth every effort we invest.

Here are some approaches you may take to the study of the Word of God.

  • Study for pleasure - Simply pick up the Bible in a favorite translation and read it for the pleasure and excitement of savoring its riches. Read your favorite passages. Read a book new to you. Or, read it to help you sleep! NB This is not the preferred method - simply a helpful extra.
  • Study systematically - Whatever study plan you are following, run alongside it a scheme which systematically covers the entire Bible in one, two or three years. Try to repeat this every few years. Most Bible stores have booklets enabling you to achieve this. As we will see later, even the "boring" genealogies yield vital nuggets.
  • Study a topic or theme - Select a subject of special interest to you. Something that may be a personal "besetting sin" (e.g. anger). Some area of Biblical ignorance on your part. A major Bible teaching (e.g. law, prayer, angels, service).
  • Study a book - Systematically work through a book from God's Word - for an overview, for a particular theme etc.
  • Study an author or a life - Examine an aspect of the life of Jesus Christ compassion, prayer, humor, technique for evangelism etc. Or Daniel's prayer life. The faith of Abraham. Etc.

Why we should study

  • The Scriptures can be trusted - in Lesson Two you will find out just how reliable are the Scriptures!
  • The Scriptures arm us against destructive error - the Bible constantly warns God's people against those who bring in false teachings... Ephesians 4:14, Acts 20:27-31
  • The Scriptures protect us from occult influence - we are told in the Word of God that there is an occult force stalking this planet "seeking whom he may devour". The Bible shows what they are, what are their devices and plans - and how to annul their evil influence... I Peter 5:8, Ephesians 6:10-18
  • The Scriptures open salvation for others - as we personally grow to deeper understanding of God's way as revealed in Scripture we are enabled to guide others to faith...I Peter 3:15, II Timothy 2:2
  • The Scriptures are meant to change your life - above all, the Scriptures are given us so we can come towards spiritual maturity, to instill in us the very mind of God. They show us how we, as his children can conduct ourselves like Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a weapon to bludgeon others!...Romans 12:2

Principles of Study

We will, throughout Bible Basics, inject further material on the basic principles for studying God's Word. Here we will simply point out some further aspects which will be worth bearing in mind as you embark on the Course.

  • Beware of the pitfalls of language - the original MSS are the inspired Words of God (see Lesson 2). However, human intellect has been applied to recovering that original text, and to translating it into other languages. This is a notoriously difficult task!
  • Evaluate even the best scholarly studies - many scholarly works examine the Scriptures as a literary exercise and are not guided by God's Spirit. Don't reject their conclusions, but exercise due care!
  • Never study a verse in isolation - the context of a text, with related texts, often hold clues to interpreting its full meaning.
  • Distinguish between literal and figurative language - the language of the Bible reflects a word culture quite different from modern English.
  • Be observant for "undesigned Bible coincidences"
  • When persuaded of a truth, embrace it - this is a key to further understanding!

"Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law"
[Psalm 119:18]


Based on the textus receptus (of which more later) it was translated, at the behest of King James I, by 54 scholars and published in 1611. The language has been updated over the years.

..."a free rendering or expansion of the text". They may express the translator's personal prejudices.

list the words in the Bible, enabling you to find elusive or half-remembered texts. Most are based on the
King James Version

It's good - often - to just sit down quietly with your favorite translation and simply drink in God's Word. Allow it to "wash over you"
[Ephesians 5:26]

Taking notes
helps us to have a more accurate recall of what we studied. It's well worth the extra effort.


"Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence"
[I Peter 3:15]

Don't hesitate to mark your Bible. In itself the material book is not "holy", but is the medium on which God's Word is recorded.

Keep your system of marking simple.

Feel free to contact us if you have Bible challenges you can't solve. We will do our best to get a sensible answer for you!

Arrange to set aside quiet time for your studies, preferably every day.

Hint: When reading casually, keep a small notebook handy. You never know what insights or questions may spring to mind.

"Study [i.e. be diligent] to show yourself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth"
[II Timothy 2:15]

Be sure to check these side-bars. They will contain summaries of the main text - but also include new material.

"...after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.
[Acts 20:29-30]

A later lesson will investigate these hidden forces and discuss ways of protecting yourself from their influence.

"...mediaeval scholastic theologians for almost a thousand years obscured the literal, historical meaning of Bible passages with mystical interpretations.

"ploughing a field" is literal language, while "ploughing through a huge workload" is figurative. An example: Jesus did not mean we should literally cut off our hands when they err! Read Matthew 5:29-30.

An undesigned coincidence is where two or more unrelated passages complement each other, or background research enlightens. They add to the authenticity of one another, an example: find out where Elijah found gallons of water in a time of harsh drought. (Hint: a map is useful)
See I Kings 18
Bible Basics is published by:
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