You have picked a passage that you want to study for your own personal growth or to prepare to teach a group. What is next? The next thing you should do is make yourself so familiar with the passage that you can virtually quote it from memory. Some preachers of years ago called this “bathing” or “soaking” in the passage. One of the ways you get familiar with your passage is to read it in a multitude of ways. Consider these:
Read the passage devotionally.
This means to read the passage for your own benefit. What are the truths you can see on the surface of the passage? Read the passage and ask God to speak to you from it for your own personal benefit and growth. Resist the urge to “dig deep” and just read it repeatedly for your own benefit. This may be once a day for several days before you begin to do formal study.
Read the passage slowly.
Everything and everyone in our society today seem to be in a hurry! Microwave food and drive thru restaurants dominate our society. This step is especially difficult for me. I seem to always be in a hurry to jump into the commentaries to study after quickly reading the passage. Read the passage slowly and savor each word as you would enjoy your favorite meal. Read the passage more like a slow cooker than a microwave oven.
Read the passage expectantly.
Are you expecting God to speak to you through the passage? This is His promise to us anytime we read His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Isaiah 55:11, 2 Peter 1:3). God breathed out His Word through men of old as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. The result is that the Bible is inerrant, inspired and infallible. Every time we read it, we hear from God. Believe this as you read the passage. Expect God to speak and change you.
Read the passage comparatively (in multiple translations).
Compare the passage you are studying among multiple versions. Bible versions generally fall into two categories: word for word translations (dynamic equivalence) and paraphrase translations. Word for word translations attempt to translate the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic into English without any additional words or phrases if at all possible. A paraphrase takes the meaning of a verse or passage of Scripture and attempts to express the meaning in “plain language” – essentially the words the author of the paraphrase would use to say the same thing. Read this article by Dr. John MacArthur regarding which translation is best.
Word for word translations include: the King James, New King James, English Standard Version and New American Standard Bible. Paraphrase versions include: New International Version, New Living Translation, and The Message. Both kinds of translations can benefit you in Bible study. Read the passage in several versions. You can do that at Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible.
Read the passage orally (aloud).
Find a place where you will not disturb anyone and read the passage aloud. Read it aloud slowly and in several translations. Note how the words sound coming out of your own mouth. Are there words you want to emphasize when you read the text aloud before teaching? You can find websites where you can hear someone read the passage aloud as well.
Read the passage observantly.
What is in the text? This is when you want to begin to ask the journalistic questions? Who, what, where, when and why? Who is writing here? What is the subject of the text in one or two words? Where are the recipients of the original text? When was the book you are studying from written? Why is the author addressing this issue to the original readers? In this stage, you will want to read the passage to begin to discover the “meat” of the text.
Read the passage grammatically (trying to understand the phrases).
The Bible is literature so it contains literary devices. The Bible is comprised of words like any other literary document therefore it can be examined like our English teachers taught us. Look for nouns, pronouns, verbs, participles, adverbs, adjectives, hyperbole, poetry, humor, simile and metaphors. The historical books contain plots, sub-plots, a protagonist and an antagonist. Sentences in the epistles can be diagrammed to determine the subject, predicate and supporting structure. Read your passage like an English major.
Read the passage repeatedly.
The more you read the passage the more familiar you will become with it. Some preachers read their text as many as 100 times before preaching it. You may read the text so much that you have virtually memorized it before studying it. Reading it multiple times in multiple translations will enable you to explain to your listeners how it is different from one translation to another. Plus you are actually learning more about the passage than you think just by reading it multiple times.
Read the passage singularly (wait before going to study resources).
Do not rush! A continual temptation will be to jump straight to your study resources. Do not read anything other than the biblical text to begin with. Resist the urge to open a commentary or consult your favorite-on-line Bible study resource. Commentaries are what learned men have said about the Bible, however the Bible is God’s Word and is able to stand by itself. You need to hear from God more than you need to hear from esteemed and respected scholars or preachers.
Read the passage fairly (recognize your theological, cultural and personal biases).
All of us have biases, either recognized or not, when it comes to the Bible. These biases can be good. For instance, I am biased that the Bible is inspired by God; it contains no error and it will never fail to accomplish what God set out for it to do. I am biased that God will speak to me in His Word. However, biases can be negative also. Some are biased that the Bible is merely a “good book” and not a “god book.” Others think the Bible contains errors. Positive or negative biases will adversely affect your Bible study. At this stage, you need to try and recognize any biases you have about the Bible.
Get started by reading the text. Gather the Bibles you may have in multiple translations or find the web sites you need to read your text in multiple translations. Expect God to speak to you and begin working in your own life in this important step in studying the Bible.