God has called us to handle His Word accurately—rightly applying it to each situation and rightly teaching it to others. Yet many of us are making mistakes in our approach to Bible study which hinder our understanding of the Scriptures. Here, Shannon Leibold shares 7 mistakes to avoid in Bible study for beginners to help you counsel your friends, disciple your children, and inform your decisions with the wisdom, truth, and knowledge of God’s Word.
From the moment I heard him teach, I knew I wanted to be just like him.
I was the first to sign up for the “Bible Study for Beginners” class our new pastor offered in our small-town church. I listened with rapt attention as Pastor Peter opened the Scriptures and began teaching from 1 Peter, verse by verse and line by line. His sprawling cursive filled the whiteboard as he linked passages from other parts of the Bible to the verses we studied. To my sheer astonishment, every time someone raised a hand and asked a question, he confidently flipped the pages of his well-worn Bible and quickly found the answer. He knew his way around the Bible better than anyone I’d ever met.
His zeal for the Word of God was infectious.
It was there in that Bible study for beginners class that I told the Lord I would do whatever it took to acquire a deep knowledge and love for His Word. And so, I started a journey that would last a lifetime.
BIBLE STUDY FOR BEGINNERS: 7 COMMON MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
As I began to get serious about studying the Scriptures, I became aware of several mistakes I had been making in approaching God’s Word. These mistakes were limiting my understanding of God’s story and hindering my quest to become competent in the Scriptures. Over the years, I’ve come to realize these mistakes are common to many people.
We want to be people who are theologically minded and deeply rooted in the Bible. We want to be able to go to the Scriptures on any topic and apply God’s wisdom to our circumstances. And we want to counsel our friends, disciple our children, and inform our decisions with the truth of God’s Word. To do so, we must avoid these 7 common mistakes when studying the Bible.
1. WE MAKE THE BIBLE ALL ABOUT US
The Bible is first and foremost a book about God. But far too often we make it a book about us. We approach it from a me-centered perspective, looking for what it has to say about ‘my’ situation and ‘my’ life. Since God’s Word is living and active and the Holy Spirit speaks specifically through it, we do, of course, receive direction for our circumstances, but the Word of God is primarily a book about God.
“In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1). It is not our names that appear in the first sentence of the divine narrative, but His. We must therefore approach Scripture as a manual about our Creator God and view it as the primary way to get to know Him better. When we approach it as a book about us, we make it much smaller than it is and miss the revelation of God’s glory.
2. WE QUICKLY SKIP TO APPLICATION
This second mistake is a by-product of the first. When we believe the Bible is a book about us, we very quickly jump to application. We want to know how it applies to our lives. Our circumstances, our decisions, our problems. We overlook basic comprehension to get to what we think is the best part. We miss the original setting, rush past the historical background, and ignore the cultural context. And in doing so we are in grave danger of missing the point entirely.
Faulty application results when we don’t take the time to understand the text and interpret what it means. And when faulty application is allowed to continue, we fall into all kinds of wrong doctrine and heretical living. We must do the good hard work of thorough observation and interpretation before we get to application.
3. WE MISS THE GREATER STORY
The Bible is one story. From beginning to end it is one grand narrative of the history of redemption, highlighting God’s relentless love for His people. The Old Testament anticipates the New Testament in a thousand ways, and the New Testament gloriously fulfills the Old Testament. Each detail in every book has been divinely included to point to the greater story God is writing throughout history.
However, we often approach the Bible as if it were 66 separate books in a library, studying each book on its own, and we fail to see how it is pointing to the metanarrative. Instead, we should be continually asking how the passage we are studying fits in the overall story. We ought to be imagining the timeline of Scripture and be able to place the verses on it accurately. Understanding the Bible as a whole is essential for any Bible student.
4. WE NEGLECT THE CONTEXT
Each book of the Bible was written by a specific person at a specific time to a specific audience. When we ignore this reality, we are in danger of taking the Bible out of context. We cannot make it mean something for us now that it didn’t mean for them then. We must first diligently study the historical context and the author’s intent in writing it before we can ever hope to apply the truth to our own lives. Context is king, and those who ignore it miss the divine purpose of the passage. Diligent Bible students carefully study the context to better understand God’s Word.
5. WE WANT QUICK AND EASY RESULTS
In our Amazon Prime, viewing on-demand, and instant-everything world, we often approach the Bible with the same mindset. We expect five minutes of Bible study squeezed in between brushing our teeth and pouring our morning coffee to yield great rewards. We expect to know and understand Scripture with minimal investment. But the reality is, biblical literacy takes time. It is an investment of time, energy, and hard work over a long period. Bible scholars have spent years immersed in God’s Word, faithfully studying the text. We need to be willing to do the work necessary to become skilled in the Scriptures.
6. WE RELY HEAVILY ON OTHER RESOURCES
The Bible is sufficient. Another common mistake we make in Bible study is that we study anything and everything but the Bible. Devotionals, commentaries, Bible studies, blog posts—there are so many wonderful Bible study resources out there, and I am not for one minute suggesting we throw them all away. We need them. But we must make the Bible the primary text of our study. This means we go to the Bible first, we wrestle through the text, and we sit in the tension of the learning process. Only after we grapple through the text to arrive at the meaning do we then consult secondary resources.
7. WE FAIL TO COME EXPECTANTLY
God speaks to us through the Word. In fact, it is His primary way of communicating with His children. So often we fail to come to Bible study with any expectancy for God to speak, and when we aren’t listening for Him, we are sure to miss Him. A good Bible student cares more about having a conversational, intimate relationship with God than she cares about mastering the text. The beautiful thing is, when we come expectantly with a heart that wants to know our Father, God grants spiritual wisdom and understanding.
THE LASTING FRUITS OF BIBLE STUDY
Nearly a decade has passed since that Bible study for beginners class where I sat amazed by my pastor and his knowledge of God’s Word. It’s taken years to even begin to fulfill my promise to the Lord, but I can say with great joy that I’m well on my way. Just the other day I sat with a friend and listened to her share about her current struggle. I grabbed my Bible, and the text was right there where I thought it was. I was able to encourage her directly from the Word of God.
God has called us to handle His Word accurately—rightly applying it to each situation; rightly teaching it to others. Let’s be faithful to study diligently and ask God to give us divine revelation and understanding of His truth. Perhaps one day, you will be the one others look to in amazement every time you open your well-worn Bible.
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Thanks, Shannon, for gathering these crucial points about Bible study, that some of us just learn gradually over the years. This is so valuable to beginners, to get them started from an informed foundation.
So happy to see you’re still in God’s Word and sharing with others.
Aw….thanks Aunt Elaine! So fun to read a comment from a “familiar face!”