Methods for Exploring the Bible

One of the things I get asked most often from younger people is how to study the bible. Um, I'm no expert, as you'll find, but I have done it many different ways, so I have some personal opinions. And, if you're looking for a new way to study, or you're looking at all the options and don't want to commit just yet, here's some ideas for you to consider. I just hope these notes compel you to crack open the Bible!

The Methods I've Tried Are:

1. Reading Randomly - I've read the Bible over the 1st 10 years of my Christian walk just randomly. Verse here, verse there, let's study the book of Colossians, hey I've never read all the book of Jeremiah let's do it, type of reading. 

PROS: you can't fall behind on this plan and feel like a loser.

CONS: It took me 10 years. And there's a lot of overlap. Because I can't tell you how many times I've heard a sermon on Matthew 5 but you ain't hearing anybody preach on Isaiah 22.

2. Historical - this reading plan on YouVersion is all about reading the books as they came out. So if the people got Mark before John, you do too. This was probably my favorite one, because you got to experience the Jewish canon and new testament books as it came out -- you get to follow the story as it was revealed.

PROS: With focus, it took me only 9 months to read the whole bible! Plus I loved experiencing the stories in context -- Kings and Chronicles, for example, cover some of the same events, but were written at vastly different times and for different reasons. Keeping it separate helps understand the Jewish narrative.

CONS: It doesn't break up books or readings. If you're in Numbers, you're reading 3-5 chapters a day & that's all you're reading until you're done with Numbers. A good way to solve this is power through the boring-er books. Read 3 days of reading in 1 day. That actually turned out to cause the pro. I read through Numbers in like 5 days because I tripled-up.

3. Chronological - in this YouVersion plan you read everything in timeline order, pieced together from all the different books. So if there's 2 versions of the same story that you're reading, one from each Kings and Chronicles, you're reading both that day.

PRO: You can see the Bible's events in timeline.

CON: The crucifixion day where you read about Jesus dying 4 times. Its a depressing day.

4. The One Year bible or other similar bible plan - this is a daily "sampler" bible -- usually 2 chapters from the OT, 1 chapter from the NT, a psalm and a verse in proverbs. This was actually my least favorite plan.

PRO: It was slightly less boring to read Numbers because psalms and proverbs were there to pick you up.

CON: Instead of 5 chapters a day for a week in Numbers, since you only do two chapters a day, you're in Numbers for like a month. 

Plus, following 2 seperate narratives is way more jostling that I thought it would be. In the other plans I could read the story with focus of what they knew and what they didn't. I was following 1 story. Now I was jumping from Genesis, where they are just discovering God's faithfulness, and in the next minute Jesus is telling the Pharisees off. I don't know about you but I can't just jump into the complexities of first century Jewish politics. //And who DOESN'T want to study 1st century Jewish politics??!!//

5. Looking for your topic - here it doesn't matter so much HOW you read the bible, you're looking for a certain topic. Once I read the Bible just looking for highlights of women and feminine imagery. Once I looked for altars. It helps to highlight all these topical verses in a certain color. For the women's topics I used pink. When I was looking for altars I used beige. All the other "wow this is cool" verses I use yellow. Water verses get blue.

PROS: You trace a topic through the entire scripture.  You can also do this while in another reading plan or read scanning for 2 topics.

CONS: It can get dull. Altar verses are few and far between. But together they're AMAZING.

Also its easy to skip stuff. You tend to get glassy-eyed looking for keywords. That's probably no bueno.

6. Someone's Book: YouVersion is ripe with devo's centered around people's book. It's...fine I guess. Of course, it's a way they can sell you a book, so they tend not to go in super amounts of depth. But it HAS helped me figure out if I want to buy the book.

What I'm planning to do next:

The next method I want to try is following a larger theme through scripture, like grace or faithfulness. Not just verses, but larger themes of chapters and books. Basically create my own reading plan for a theme. 

What I really crave: a devotional that actually teaches me something I don't know. Sure, ones have brought up points I had skipped over, or put verses side by side I had never considered before, but honestly I have yet to get a devotional like I felt taught me some hard-lined fact that shifted my perspective, like when I learned about the covenant ceremony or the role of the power of the Holy Spirit or the Passover Seder or the politics involved in certain periods of time. Something that you learn, and you're like, wow, I need to read the bible all over again looking through this lens. IDK. Maybe that's not what devotionals do. But if there's one out there that does, I'd sure like to read it.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions, down in the comments.