Personal Bible Study Tips

When anyone first begins to read the Bible it immediately becomes obvious that the Bible is different than any other book. It originates in God Himself, for these are the very words of God. It also comes from authors who wrote in ancient days (1400 BC through 70 AD), and it deals with the heaviest subjects of all time (God, creation, morality, life’s purpose, human depravity, gracious redemption, and humanity’s ultimate end). The Bible can be intimidating and confusing in some areas.

However, it is also true that the Bible is quite similar to other books. Human authors with life experiences and cultural perspective wrote the texts we find in the Bible. The writings fit into particular genre categories (poetic, historical, personal letter, etc.), and some authors wrote in multiple genres (for example, Daniel wrote of historical events and his apocalyptic visions). While the Bible is divine revelation, it is also written in such a way as to communicate that revelation to the intended audience effectively.

It is very important to note that the simple truths of the Bible are quite accessible to any attentive reader. There are difficult passages to be sure, but the truth of the Gospel and the story of redemption is not difficult to grasp or hard to see. This reality is one of the major doctrines or teachings that undergird Protestantism. The Bible does not require a cryptograph in order for everyday people to understand it, and God has intended to make Himself known to humanity through this revelation. Therefore, He has not hidden Himself or made His revelation hard to find.

In short, we should gladly affirm the words placed in the introduction to the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible, “This Book [is] the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.” This is true for the simplest and the loftiest minds.


As we read the Bible, we may benefit from a structure or form that can guide us along the path of understanding how what we read should be applied to our life today. The following is not the only way that one may rightly understand what God’s revelation intends to communicate, but it is a helpful way to read, know, and apply God’s Word.[1]
When you read, begin by asking yourself, “Who is the author and who is the audience?” This will help you gain perspective about what is being said. Many study Bibles will provide a handy introduction and description to each book of the Bible that will help you answer these questions.

Next, ask, “Why did the author write what he did?” Is the author writing a history so that future generations will know what God has done? Is the author writing a letter to encourage or rebuke his Christian brothers and sisters? The answer to this question will greatly improve your ability to know what is actually being communicated.

Then, ask, “What is the author talking about in the paragraph above and below the passage I am trying to understand?” This is a question about context, and context will help you avoid wrongly interpreting one passage, sentence, or word. Often, people will ignore context and find themselves believing the Bible to teach something that is completely different than what is clearly the intent of the author. Knowing the context will keep us from this error.

Along these same lines, the next question you will want to ask is, “What does the rest of the Bible teach about the major subject of this passage?” This too is a question of context, but it is concerned with the broader context of the whole Bible. The Bible does not contradict itself, even in the instances where one author may seem to be saying something different than another. If we find that our understanding of the passage we are reading would put it in opposition to something that the Bible teaches clearly about elsewhere, then we have simply misunderstood our passage. We must allow the Bible to be its own interpreter when it speaks on the subject at hand.


Once we have a pretty good handle on the intended meaning of the passage we are reading, we can begin to move from asking questions like “What did this passage mean to the intended audience?” to more pressing questions like “How do I apply such a thing to my life today?” However, we must never try to skip to the final phase too quickly. If we read that Jesus brought a dead girl back to life, and we believe that the application of this passage is that all Christians should be able to bring dead people back to life, then we have missed the point entirely – and we have made ourselves out to be fools.

Here is a good progression that I like to use when I am looking for an application for my own life from a particular passage.

I ask, “What is the point the author is making here?” Then I ask, “What is the big truth of the Bible behind or undergirding this point?” Then I ask, “How does this big truth of the Bible speak to my own circumstances?”


Let’s take a look at a particular passage to see this play out.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The author, Moses, is making the point here that God is the one who created everything. He is writing this account of creation as a revelation of God to His people in particular, and to any human who will read it in general. The big truth (or truths) of the Bible here is that God is not part of creation – He is uncreated and self-existent – and He is creator and sustainer of everything. The “How does this big truth of the Bible speak to my own circumstances” question is a bit tricky here because the applications are endless. There is only one right meaning of a text, but there may be multiple applications.

If I were having difficulty trusting in God’s power to be my help in a time of great distress, then I might take wonderful comfort to remember that God is infinitely powerful in creation. He is powerful enough to create all that is, and He is powerful enough to help me in my time of need.

If I were struggling to understand how I am to view the Bible’s authority, then I might hear the weighty assertion made here. The Bible makes a claim to tell humans the very nature of all origins – “In the beginning, God…” This means that the Bible is either true or not true, but it cannot simply be a good book. If it is not true, then it has no real value at all (though some might argue that the literary contributions are some value by themselves). But if it is true, then it has an ultimate claim on all of my life and every other human life. In this opening verse, the author is claiming to speak on behalf of God about the creation of everything. This is no small statement.

This sort of application to various circumstances or postures could continue, but you likely get the point. My hope is that you will find great joy and marvelous delight as you discover more and more about the God who created all things as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. I also hope that these simple helps or tips will be a benefit to you as you read, understand, and apply God’s word to your life each day.

[1] See more principles for Biblical interpretation at