The Complete Guide to Studying the Bible with Confidence

Inside: Ready to learn how to study the bible yourself? Here’s everything you need to know when you are learning how to study the bible as a beginner!

My church does a great job with discipleship and training/educating members on praying, studying the Bible, and sharing the Gospel. I didn’t have that growing up. From the age of 10 until well into my 20s I had a lot of people telling me what I could/couldn’t do but NO ONE was trying to help me understand how to pray or study on my own.

I was completely lost and overwhelmed and so I just didn’t study at all. I depended on other people to tell me what the scriptures said and meant. And I let them tell me how to apply it to my life. Spoiler alert: that didn’t end well. I found myself in an abusive church and marriage that took a lot of work on my part to overcome.

And even then, I was left to figure it out on my own.

I started Googling all the things about Bible study. In the end, I was overwhelmed. There were so many methods and suggestions for studying scriptures that I didn’t know where to start. I defaulted to fill-in-the-blank studies that spoon-fed me information.

Hear me clearly: I’m not against video-based studies or group studies. They can have their place in your spiritual growth. But if that’s all you do, you are missing out on a lot.

You need to be able to study scripture for yourself, all by yourself. 

That’s why I put this guide together for you. So you don’t have to struggle as I did for years!

bible next to flowers

Where to Start with Bible Study

Prepare your heart

Whenever you want to grow closer to God or cultivate a new spiritual discipline it’s important to start with your heart. The goal of studying scripture is not just to say that you studied. The purpose of digging deep into God’s word is to get to know Him.  Before you take your first steps toward learning to study the bible on your own check your motives, if your heart is not in the right place — you’ll be wasting your time.

Have a plan for your study time

There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting down with your bible and having no idea what to do with it. Take some time to create a plan for your time in the Word. A plan that will work for you and your current season of life. 

When will you study:

Decide when you will study. Make sure that this is a time that actually works for you. Deciding to get up at o’ dark thirty in the morning to study because that seems like the right thing to do or because that’s what someone else does is a terrible plan. It will not serve you well in the long run and you’ll give up trying.

Choose a time that you can stick with. When you will be awake, alert, and able to focus. Early in the morning is a great option unless you’re nursing a baby all night long, working the night shift, or have to get out the door for work/school first thing. Before bed is a great option unless you’re so exhausted at the end of the day that you can never keep your eyes open.

The point is to choose a time that works for you. Try different options until you find one that fits. And remember you can always change that time when/if your season changes.

Where will you study:

Once you’ve decided on the time, you need to choose a location. Find a place where you can spend that time with God daily. You want it to be a place where you feel comfortable but not so comfy that you fall asleep. Having a dedicated space will help you get into the proper frame of mind when you want to study. A subtle trigger for your brain to know it’s time to get to work. It also serves as a cue to the other people in your home to give you some space so you can be alone with God.

How long will you study:

I want you to promise not to fall into the pit of comparison here. Pinky promise? Okay. As part of your planning, you’ll need to decide on how long you’ll spend studying. Be realistic with yourself. Just because someone tells you they spend 2 hours a day studying the bible in Hebrew and Greek doesn’t mean that’s what you need to do the same. 

You want to have enough time to dig in — even if that means you don’t read or study a long of scripture at once. 15 minutes is a great starting place. You can really study short passages in that time frame. And it’s perfect for anyone just getting started or for busy mamas. 

If you want to have extended time to study try adding in 1 day a week when you have more time. It will be easier to have just one day a week where you’re studying for an hour instead of trying to find an hour each day, especially if you are just getting started.

Don’t Make this Mistake when it comes to Bible Study

There’s a difference between reading your Bible and studying your Bible. They are both equally as important. But they are not the same. You do yourself a disservice when you equate the two.

Reading your Bible is just reading. You’ll cover more scripture reading but you won’t really dig deep into what it means and how to apply it to your life. Reading the entire Bible allows you to see the whole picture when it comes to scripture. 

When it comes to studying your Bible you want to read with a pen in hand so that you can take notes. You want to be able to keep track of what you are learning, questions that you have, and things you want to study more in-depth.

Getting started can be as easy as 1 … 2 … 3 …

  1. Skim the passage that you want to study: this will introduce you to what you will study. It’s a great way to get a general and broad idea of what you’ll dig into
  2. Read through the passage: don’t worry about taking notes here, just read the entire passage of scripture. If you can read a little before and after that’s great for understanding the context
  3. Take notes: jot down anything that jumps out at you, keep track of what you learn about God, principles that you need to apply to your life, and any questions that you still have after studying

Best Version of the Bible for Beginners

If you are serious about studying the bible (on your own or with a group) you need a bible of your own. And yes I mean an actual, physical bible that you can hold in your hands. Apps are fine but there’s nothing like feeling the weight of The Word in your hands. 

There are many types of bibles available and you will probably need to be patient and try a few before you find one that you love. If you’re able to I highly recommend going to a bookstore and spending time in the bible section. You can check out different translations, styles, fonts, etc until you find a good fit.

Which Bible Translation Should You Choose?

First, I’m not going to tell you which translation you should use. I don’t believe there is only one “correct” version of the bible. You may have a preference, and your pastor or church may use a specific version but that doesn’t mean that anything different is wrong or unbiblical. 

I do want to give you some guidelines and points to consider as you make your choice.

First, it’s important to understand the main categories for the different bible translations: word-for-word, thought-for-thought and paraphrase.

A word-for-word translation is just that — the translators went word for word in the Hebrew/Greek text and found an English word that best fit. This translation strives to stick as close to the original text as possible. Some popular word-for-word translations are the King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and English Standard Version (ESV).

Thought-for-thought translations aim to stick close to the overall meaning of each sentence/paragraph in Hebrew/Greek. These are usually easier to read/understand than word-for-word translations. Some popular thought-for-thought translations are New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation (NLT).

Paraphrase translations focus on getting the jist of the sentence/passage and conveying it in a way that is easy to understand. This is by far the easiest type of bible to read and understand but may not be the most accurate. A popular paraphrase bible is The Message. 

If you are brand new to the bible I recommend you start with a thought-for-thought translation. And then once you get your bearings try your hand at a word-for-word translation. I don’t recommend using a paraphrase as your main bible. They can be helpful when you can’t understand a passage in one of the other translations because of the everyday speech in the text. 

In case you’re curious, I currently use a NASB for my reading and studying. Before that, I read either ESV or NLT for years. 

What Kind of Bible Should You Use?

Once you decide on a translation, you’ll want to consider the design of your bible — what it looks like on the inside. There are 3 main styles for bibles these days: journaling, thinline, and study bibles. 

Study bibles are popular because they contain a lot of notes and references. They often have intro notes for each book of the bible and even study tips and suggestions. There can be maps, timelines, family trees, etc all intended to help you as you dig deep into the text. Sometimes there’s room in the margin for notes. One downside to a study bible is the size. Because they have a lot of information inside they tend to be big and heavy.

Recommended Study Bible: New Inductive Study Bible

Journaling bibles are awesome if you like to take notes or draw, or decorate the pages of your bible. The margins are larger and there aren’t any extras like in the study bible. It’s a great place to keep sermon notes, write down prayers, or even notes for a legacy bible. One downside I’ve seen to a journaling bible is the font size. To make room for journaling publishers often decrease the font of the text.

Recommended Journaling Bible: Journal the Word Reference Bible

A Thinline bible is the lightest of the 3. There’s no room for notes and not a lot of extras but, they are easy to throw in your purse or bag and go. 

Recommend Thinline Bible: NASB Thinline Bible

Best Bible Study Tools for Beginners 

Truly, the ONLY thing you need to study the bible, is a bible and something to write with. Anything else is just extra. But there are things that make studying a little easier or that help enhance your learning. Here are some of my must-have bible study supplies when you’re getting started. 

A concordance – this is like an index for the entire Bible. Perfect for word studies, creating your own reading plans, and more! I recommend finding one that also has a dictionary included.

Dictionary – perfect for looking up words that you don’t fully understand as you study your Bible. I often use a regular oxford dictionary but if your concordance doesn’t have one I highly recommend getting a Bible dictionary. These are great for looking up the original Greek/Hebrew words in scripture.

Journals – you want to have a place to keep all your notes organized in one place. I love using journals for my studies. You can go as simple as a notebook with paper or a composition book. Moleskins are great and very reasonable.

I like to spend a few extra bucks and get really pretty journals. They make awesome gifts too!

Pencils and Pens – you want to have something to write in your journal with and also pens and pencils that won’t bleed through the pages of your Bible. These are my favorite colored pencils for marking in my Bible. And when it comes to pens, hands down micron fine-tip pens are the best. I also love these highlighters — they don’t bleed through the pages and aren’t too dark. 

Commentaries – perfect for when you don’t understand what you are reading. A good commentary can help explain a verse or passage in a way that you can understand. There are many different commentaries out there so you’ll need to read a few to find your favorite. If you’d like some help finding and using commentaries Phylicia Masonheimer has a great resource.

Maps – ever wonder how close the Israelites were to the Promised Land? Or the route that Paul took on his many travels? A good book of Bible maps is a great way to answer these questions. I really like being able to compare maps from Bible times to the maps we have now. It really makes the Word come to life!

Books on how to study the Bible – you can learn a lot about studying the Bible from a good study. But there are two books that I recommend to any woman that wants to grow more Bible literate: Women in the Word by Jen Wilkin and How to Study the Bible by Kay Arthur.

How to Pick a Bible Study Topic

Option #1 – What Are You Struggling With?

One idea is to ask yourself what you are currently struggling with. Or if you’re a mom, ask yourself what your children are struggling with. My oldest son has a bit of a temper problem (which I must admit he gets honestly. Both of his parents have temper issues.) For a long time, I was having a hard time reaching his heart and talking to him about his anger.

One month, I decided to focus my own Bible time on learning about anger and specifically what God says about anger and self-control so that I could help him more. So that’s exactly what I did. I got my concordance out and looked up anger. And every day in my quiet time, I read and studied what the Bible had to say about anger.

Option #2 – Pick a Book, Any Book

Another thing you can do is pick a book from the Bible. Maybe you choose the book of James. One of my boys is reading through the book of James right now because it’s something he wanted to do. Picking a book to focus on is a great way to have a plan for what you want to study.

Option #3 – Look at the Calendar

Another thing you can do is look at the Biblical calendar. You will see that there are lots of big events that go on: Passover, Christmas, Easter. That is also a way to pick something to study. When December rolls around and it’s Advent season, what a great time to study the prophecies that foretold the coming of the Messiah.

Option #4 – What Do You Want to Know?

Is there something you just want to learn more about? I have done this many times. Just last year, I wanted to learn all I could about prayer. I wanted to know what God said about prayer and what was the right way to pray. I looked up every verse that I could find on the topic of prayer.

This is probably my favorite way to study and read is just digging in deep on something that interests me.

You could also choose a person to study. Maybe you want to study the life of Paul or Abraham or the women of the Bible. These are all themes that will help you focus on what you can study in your devotional time so that you have a plan and you aren’t spending the 5-10 minutes you set aside trying to figure out what to read. 

Related: How to create your own Bible reading plan

Option #5 – Pray!

Yes, pray and ask God what it is that He wants you to learn about, what He wants you to work on, and what He wants to reveal to you during your time with Him.

He is faithful to answer those questions. He says, “If you want wisdom, just ask for it”, and He will give it. He gives it freely. Sometimes we have not because we don’t ask.

So ask Him for direction, and He will be faithful to answer that question.

Where to Start Studying in the Bible

You have all your supplies and you’re ready to dig in. But where do you start? This a question that often sabotages ladies on their bible study journey. I don’t want that for you. Here are a few suggestions that I share with clients and ladies inside the Women Finding God Community:

Start in the Old Testament

The OT is a great place to start because it tells the beginning of the gospel story. The accounts and biblical principles found in Genesis are key to your faith. Taking the time to dig into the first few books of the bible will give you a great foundation for further study. I would start with Genesis and Exodus then maybe Joshua. If you are new to the bible save Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy for after you build up some confidence in your study skills. 

The Psalms are also a great place to start studying — especially if you are walking through hard times. There are so many names of God revealed in the Psalms. 

Start with the New Testament

The NT is actually my favorite place to start when it comes to studying the bible. I usually recommend starting with one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).  Getting to know Jesus is vital to your faith and reading through the gospels is a great way to do that. I’m partial to the book of John but any gospel will serve you well. 

If you really want to dig your teeth into substance you could also start with the book of Romans. I warn you, it’s challenging stuff to read, study and apply. But you’ll uncover the foundational principles of Christianity and what it means to live life fully surrendered to God. 

A Chronological Path through Scripture

If you didn’t know — our bibles are NOT in chronological order.  They aren’t even in the same order as some other texts — in Jewish culture, the book of Ruth comes after Proverbs as a tie into the Proverbs 31 Woman.  Studying the bible chronologically helps you see the timeline of history through scripture.

You will read the same account (in different books) several times studying this way and have to do a lot of jumping around in the old testament. But having that big-picture view of biblical history is well worth the extra effort.

Simple Bible Study Methods for Beginners

If you are looking for a little more structure to your study time there are some easy bible study methods you could try:

Verse Mapping

Verse mapping was one of the first methods I tried when I decided to study without a guide or videos. It was pretty simple to understand and get started. Basically, you take a verse and look up each word. Then you take those definitions and plug them back into the verse.

This helps you have a better overall understanding of what a verse is actually saying based on the original language and just what we think it’s saying based on today’s meanings. 

Recommended Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Verse Mapping

Word Study

A word study allows you to trace a single word/phrase through all of scripture. Sometimes when I’m doing a verse map a word will jump out at me and I’ll want to learn more about it. I often pause what I’m studying to do a word study. Other times I’m just curious about a word and I’ll dig into that. 

The goal of a word study is to have a complete picture or understanding of what scripture says. You’ll want to read/study every verse that contains that word or phrase and make sure you have proper context so you’ll be able to apply it correctly. 

Topical Study

Topical studies are similar to word studies but you’ll trace a topic throughout all of scripture. Love would be a topical study — there’s more than one kind of love mentioned in scripture. By studying every reference to love in the entire Bible you’d learn about each type. 

Topical studies also work for places and events. You could study wells in the bible. Did you know that “Jacob’s Well” is the same location as Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman? I learned that doing a topical study.

Character Study

A character study will allow you to study the entire life — at least what’s in scripture — of a single person. These can be quite in-depth depending don’t the person. And don’t think that it only applies when the person is also the name of the book. Some lives span a few books of the bible — like David and Paul.

One thing that I love is when I can tie an old testament person to the new testament by looking at all the scripture references. 

Inductive Study

This is my favorite way to study scripture. I learned this method by reading “How to Study the Bible” by Kay Arthur which I mentioned earlier. If you want to learn this method please read the book or take the course. 

But basically, you want to dig in by asking the 6 questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. You’ll keep track of keywords and phrases and find different cross-references in scripture. It’s a great way to really dig deep and camp out in a book of the bible for a while. 

Final Bible Study Tips

It can be a little overwhelming when you decide to take on studying the bible on your own. I have had many ups and downs (more downs) over the years and I’ve heard from thousands of ladies as well.  If that’s how you’re feeling today consider this my pep talk just for you!

Start small

I know that eagerness and excitement are great when you are starting something new. BUT don’t let that force you to bite off more than you can chew. 

Don’t tackle Revelation in a week if you are just getting started. Actually just don’t try to tackle Revelation in a week period. You’re just setting yourself up for failure. 

Take things slowly. And don’t be afraid to slow down or take a break when you need to. There’s no gold star for bible study “success” and there’s never a point where you will have studied it all on this side of heaven. 

Take your time and just enjoy the process. 

Keep your supplies in one place

Spending 15 minutes looking for your stuff will sabotage your study time. Don’t do that to yourself. Keep all your stuff in one place — the same place. I have used a basket, a corner on my dresser, and a desk. Sometimes I even set all my stuff out on the dining room table before I go to bed. 

Keep everything you think you may need — even tissues — so you don’t have to leave your spot to gather supplies. You may not make it back.

Pray before, during, and after

Bathe your time in the word in prayer always. The enemy doesn’t want you to spend time with God. He doesn’t want you to learn about God’s character and your identity as a child of God. Trust that he will try everything he can to keep you distracted. Prayer is your first and last defense against those attacks. 

When you don’t know what to study … pray. Some when you are struggling to understand or apply something. Be in constant conversation with the Lord. It will bless you in more ways than one. 

No perfectionism or comparison

I meant it! I don’t care if Sister Sally reads scripture for 36 hours a day in Hebrew and Greek. Yay for her, you keep your eyes on your own paper. 

The goal is not perfection — that’s not possible while we are on earth. You want to see progress. If you read or studied for 1 minute longer than the day before good for you. Celebrate that and keep it moving. 

When you Fall Behind in your Bible Study

Option #1 Don’t try to catch up!

If you are doing a small group study it can be tough if you fall behind. It means that you won’t be able to follow the conversation or discussion. Or maybe you will have nothing to add.

One thing that you can do is skip over what you’ve missed and just stay where everybody else is. If it’s a 5-week  study and you get week 1 done but you miss week 2, and then everybody else is on week 3, just skip over week 2 and go on to week 3 and keep going forward.

Please don’t stay home just because you aren’t caught up.

You can still get a lot of learning and encouragement from just listening to what’s going on. Especially if it’s a video-based study. You can learn so much from watching the videos even if you can’t keep up with the homework.

Just skip over the week you’ve missed and when the study is over or you have extra time during the week, go back and work on the parts that you missed.

Option #2 Pick up where you left off

Instead of skipping over what you missed, simply pick up where you left off. If you left off in your 7-week study on week 3, and this study is over, then just start where you left off and work forward.

Maybe you just do a week at a time and that means you finish later than everybody else. Or if you have some extra time, work in there. But just keep going.

This is an especially good option if you’re in a study where each week builds on itself. In most studies, the content will be related, but there are some studies, like Beth Moore’s Daniel study, where if you try to skip over a week and then catch up, you would be lost.

Option #3 Do a Bible study blitz

Carve out a block of time and just plow through whatever it is that you need to get done. And that way, you’re all caught up.

Option #4 Consider your season

The last option is to evaluate where you are. There are different seasons of life where you have more (or less) time to focus on spiritual growth and your faith.

Often for me, especially when my older two kids were small, I found that every time I joined a study, I was always behind. And I had to realize that that was the season I was in where group studies weren’t going to be a really good fit for me. Because I didn’t have the time to keep up.

That doesn’t mean that you should abandon them altogether or that they’re a terrible idea for everybody. But there are seasons in life where you’re not going to be able to keep up with the homework.

Do not beat yourself up.

You don’t want to be so hard on yourself. The Bible says that there is no more condemnation once you’re in Christ Jesus. God is not going to come down like whack-a-mole and bop you on the head because you fell behind in your Bible study!

He loves you. He wants to spend time with you. But He’s not concerned with the amount of time. If all you have is 5 minutes, He is happy to have those 5 minutes with you and He will bless you during those minutes. 

Remember, God looks at your heart. If your heart is motivated and your intention is to be with Him and spend time with Him, it doesn’t matter if it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours.

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