Getting Started in Personal Bible Study

A few years ago, I was introduced to Jen Wilkin and her book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and Our Minds. She speaks to the need for study and meditation on God’s Word, as well as gives practical advice on how to do so. The following are some quick reference notes that I compiled from chapter 6 of her book that I hope will aid you in getting started. If you have the opportunity, I would strongly recommend getting this book for your own future reference. I go back to it often. It’s very practical and easy to use.

There are three stages of study:

  • Comprehension (observation): This is when we seek to answer the question, “What does it say?” The following are tools to help you build your comprehension of the text:
    • Print a copy of the text you are studying. (Note: If you would rather not print a copy of Isaiah, Crossway offers an Isaiah scripture journal for purchase.) This is where you can write notes or questions for yourself, mark things that stick out to you, or make note of something you are learning about God. The heart of our study should be the desire to get to know our God better, thus growing in our faith!
    • Read the overview of the book in a study Bible. This will help you understand the historical and cultural context answering who, what , where, when, why, and how questions. It also will give you an outline of the book which is helpful especially with longer books of the Bible.
    • Read and reread (or listen to an audio recording of) the book you are studying. Use different translations. “Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:3-6
    • As you read, begin making notes on your printed copy. The following are some ideas for annotation:
      • Mark repeated words, phrases, or ideas. Using colored pencils or markers are helpful. Develop your own marking system using circles, boxes, underlines, pictures,…whatever works for you.
      • Make note of attributes of God that are being illustrated and write them in the margin. (i.e. Creator, Sovereign, Provider, Comforter, Judge,…)
      • If you notice lists or several points being made in a row, number them.
      • Mark words you don’t understand with a question mark and look them up later. Jot down the definition in the margin.
      • Mark transition words like if/then, therefore, likewise, but, because. Think about what thoughts are being connected and why.
      • If there is something that you don’t understand, write your question in the margin. See if you can find the answer later.
    • If you like, try to make a rough outline of what you are reading. This will help you see the flow of thought, and the overall structure and purpose of the text.
  • Interpretation: This stage looks at the question, “What does it mean?”
    • Cross-references: The most basic rule of interpretation is “let scripture interpret scripture”. For this reason, look up cross-references that are listed in your Bible. Many times they will point to where a verse might have been quoted from, or where you can find out more information about a person, place, or event. Don’t feel like you need to look up every cross-reference listed. Depending on your time, pick a few that will help aid you in your understanding of what is being said.
    • Paraphrasing: Try to write out in your own words what you believe the author is saying.
    • Consult other sources such as commentaries, study Bible notes, sermons or other teaching that is trust worthy. Check with your pastor or a Bible teacher you know to make sure that the resources you use are reliable. They may have recommendations for a good commentary or two you could use. Note: Do your own interpretative work before reading someone else’s interpretation.
  • Application: This stage of study asks the question, “How should it change me?” Our goal is not knowledge for knowledge sake. Our goal is to learn about God…study who God is so that we grow in our love for and obedience of Him. We want to know God! We should desire heart change which will translate into action. The following are three questions you should always ask yourself:
    • What does this passage teach me about God?
    • How does this aspect of God’s character change my view of self?
    • What should I do in response?

Depending on your season in life, time may not permit you to use all of the tools of study exhaustively. Just do what you can. As Christians, our study of God should be a life long process. Ask the Lord to teach you one knew thing about Himself every time you sit down and open your Bible.

ESV Scripture Journal: Isaiah. Crossway, 2001.

Wilkin, Jen. Jen Wilkin and Her Book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Crossway, 2014.