Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

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Righting Dividing: 12 Do's and Dont's for Effective Bible Study | Satisfaction Through Christ | With years of Bible teaching experience, Michelle breaks down Bible study with scripture backed wisdom.

12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Bible study. As Christians we want to do it, we know we’re supposed to do it, but have you ever stopped to think that there are right ways and wrong ways to do it? Let’s take a look at a few do’s and don’ts of “rightly dividing God’s word” in Bible study.

Do use a good translation, not a paraphrase. You want to get as close to the original wording as possible. There are a number of easy to read, accurate translations out there. The English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) are two of the best. Try some translations on for size at BibleGateway.com.

Do read the entire Bible from cover to cover at least every few years. It will give you a better understanding of the “big picture” of the Bible and how all the little pieces inside it fit together. (I highly recommend a chronological reading plan since the books of the Bible aren’t always arranged chronologically.)

Don’t neglect the textual context. Every Bible verse has what I call a “micro-context” (how it fits in with the verses immediately before and after it) a larger context (how it fits in with the chapter and book it’s in) and a “macro-context” (how it fits in with the big picture of the Bible). When we fail to take verses in context, we are mishandling and misappropriating God’s precious and holy word.

Do consider the cultural context. Who wrote the passage, and what do we know about him and his perspective? To whom was the passage written- Jews or Gentiles? Those under the Law or those under grace? Men or women? Pastors or lay people? How did the culture at the time view the topic the passage is about, God, Judaism, the church, etc.? At what period in history, in which country, and in what language was the passage written? A good study Bible or study Bible app can be a tremendous help here.

Don’t confuse DEscriptive texts (passages that describe something that happened to somebody) with PREscriptive texts (a command we’re to obey). Just because you read that Noah built an ark or that Judas went out and hanged himself, doesn’t mean the God is telling you to do the same (thank goodness!). Those are descriptive passages. God is simply telling the story of what happened to someone else because it somehow fits into His bigger story of redemption.

Do consider the type of literature and literary devices you’re reading. Is this book of the Bible history? Poetry? Law? Prophecy? Epistle? Is the particular passage a song, metaphor, hyperbole, comparison, allegory, parable? The Bible uses various vehicles to drive truth home, and they must all be understood in different ways.

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feel like you HAVE to use a Bible study or devotional book or workbook. It really is OK to just pick up the actual Bible and study it. God made His word understandable, made you smart enough to understand it, and gave you the indwelling Holy Spirit to illumine your understanding.

Do, if you decide to use one, choose a Bible study book or workbook that treats Scripture as the “swimming pool” you dive into and swim around in, not the “diving board” the author springs off of into a pool filled only with her own personal stories, anecdotes, and opinions.

Do read the Bible in orderly chunks, not in single verses. Think about the way you would read a magazine. Do you pick it up each day and read a random sentence or paragraph? Do you read the third page of an article before you read the first page of it? You’ll best understand a book of the Bible if you start at the beginning and read the chapters in order to the end.

Don’t give in to the temptation to read yourself into Scripture. The Bible isn’t our story. Approach every passage remembering that the Bible is God’s story of redemption through Christ from His perspective, and we study it to learn about and draw closer to Him.

Don’t underestimate how helpful your Bible’s cross-references to related verses can be. Reading several different passages on a particular topic you’re studying can give you a broader understanding of what the Bible has to say about it.

Do let clear passages interpret unclear passages. This is another reason cross-references are so handy. If you come across a passage you just don’t get, try reading related passages that are clearer, and understand the unclear passage in light of the clearer ones.

Lengthy tomes have been written on the topic of biblical hermeneutics and Bible study methods, so I’m sure I could go on at length, but it’s your turn:

Have you ever found it difficult or daunting to study the Bible?
What are some of the benefits of rightly handling God’s word?
How has a right understanding of Scripture helped you to grow
in your walk with the Lord?

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Michelle is a women’s Bible study author, ministry wife, and home schooling mom. She and her husband have six children in their tweens, teens, and twenties. Michelle enjoys reading, spending time with family, and staying active at church and in women’s ministry. Her goal in writing, speaking, and teaching is to train church ladies to be “Mighty Amazon Women” of God: strong in godliness, humility, submission, discernment, kindness, wisdom, apologetics, and hermeneutics.


  1. says

    You, of course, forgot the most important of all the disciplines in studying the Bible — Holy Tradition. That is, what has the Church and its leaders always taught about any particular subject. Let me give you an example of how important this is.

    In the early part of the fourth century, a cleric by the name of Arias began to teach that Jesus was not God manifest in the Flesh, but rather a created being of the one and only God. He was a monotheist. He gathered together a large following, so large in fact that the Church became concerned with the way that he was leading massive numbers of souls astray. A council was called and was convened in AD 325 in the sleepy little burg of Nicea.

    At the Nicene Council, Arias eloquently defended his presupposition — and did so “sola scriptura,” that is, from the Scriptures alone.

    The Church, on the other hand, besides bringing other scriptures into play, also rested on Holy Tradition, that is, the truth of the matter which had been handed down for three centuries from generation to generation by holy men who passed on the faith with the fear of God. The fact was that despite Arias’ claims, the Holy Tradition of the Church was the from the very beginning, it had been taught by the Apostles and to each succeeding generation that Jesus was God in the Flesh, the second Person of the Trinity. Arias was defeated and because of this, we are orthodox, trinitarian believers today.

    A lack of reference to Holy Tradition is what has shredded Christianity into thousands of competing and disagreeing sects. Lack of reference to Holy Tradition made Ellen White think that she had found something in the scriptures when she was evidently influenced by a demon into opposing the Church’s teachings on the Sabbath. Holy Tradition was ignored by Charles Taze Russell as he resurrected the Arian heresy and created the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses. The same is true for the Mormons.

    And what of you, my dear lady? Have you ignored the Holy Traditions and teachings of the Church in favor of your own understanding? In favor of something you are comfortable with? When Jesus said “This IS my Body….this IS my Blood” do you ignore that because, as I have heard said “That bread and wine can’t possibly be the real Body and Blood of Christ.” You cannot understand, so you disagree, yet for 2,000 years, Holy Tradition which goes all the way back to the teachings of the Apostles, teaches that it is indeed the Body and Blood of Christ, and our ability to understand does not affect this.

    What of your refusal to believe in the necessity of the Sacraments, the priesthood, and membership in the Church which Christ established upon St. Peter? When I found out that all these teachings have a rich history which goes all the way back to the beginning of the Church — that was the end of my 25 year relationship with Protestantism.

    Holy Tradition — the touchstone of a proper understanding of the Scriptures. The Church teaches and defends that which has been handed down through the generations — that is Holy Tradition.

      • says

        Michelle, I applaud you for including what was an obviously hostile and defensive comment on your post. It’s a shame when fellow believers feel the need to attack another in order to make their point. Praying grace and love would become the primary communication between all believers.

  2. mdhall88 says

    Great tips! I used to have a really hard time studying the Bible (not to say I’m an expert now…) and I used Daily Devotions, books, Bible studies, etc. A few years ago, a book (By His Wounds We Are Healed-which is a study on Ephesians) was recommended to me and it changed the way I read the Bible. I wish I could find more studies like that one. I now feel more confident reading books of the Bible and understanding them where I used to only feel comfortable reading stories. It also helps that I now go to a church that preaches through books of the Bible and not topical sermons.

  3. says

    Michelle, you brought up some good points. I especially appreciated how you described the different types of ‘context’ which is important because looking at the Bible through those three lenses will help us not to miss important parts of God’s word. One thing I like to do is topical studies. About three years ago I read and studied every verse where the Holy Spirit is mentioned and then I wrote out each one on a legal pad and read over them several times. That study has stuck with me and I’ve referenced that legal pad and my notes many times since. I didn’t use a study guide or anything like that (although I’ve read several good books on the topic…) This type of study kind of goes hand and hand with cross referencing verses. For me it was a time of increased spiritual growth (which I’d been begging God for..) Anyways, thanks for writing this post. Bible study is really important to me so I’m always eager for info on it!

  4. says

    Great post, Michelle. I just started a late mid-year Bible reading, utilizing a four-part simultaneous reading plan I’ve never used before. I’m usually pretty book-oriented, doing in-depth verse-by-verse studies…so this is opening me up to how Scripture proves Scripture. It’s totally out of my norm, but I’m loving it! Isn’t it great how God always leads you to just what you need, when you need it? 🙂

    • says

      Sounds like a great plan! I am always encouraged when women dig into God’s word and “study to show themselves approved”. Keep on keeping on! :0)

  5. says

    This was a WONDERFUL article! Thank you so much! I tend to have trouble studying on my own because I don’t know where to start! I tend to feel I have to be guided, and while guided studies are great, I need to remember that it’s ok to just read God’s Word. That’s what it’s there for! And my Pastor is very well educated in the cultural and historical context of the Bible and I learn so much from him in his sermons and it brings so much more to light. That’s such a big one too. I love learning about this!

  6. says

    I read a lot of “how to study the Bible” posts, and this is by far one of the best. Way to draw some important lines in the sand! I come from a kind of unique perspective in that I teach children how to study the Bible for themselves. That said, your readers should be encouraged to know that every principle you’ve laid out here can absolutely be taught to children, making them lifelong students of God’s Word who can rightly discern truth. How exciting is that?

  7. says

    Michelle, what a great post!!! I loved your suggestions. I’m a firm believer is reading through the Bible on a regular basis. You also listed some of my favorite resources. I have been blogging through the Bible for several years. I’m sure it is more of a blessing to me than anyone else because it causes me to read it thoughtfully and prayerfully.
    I especially liked your swimming pool analogy and the gracious way you handled the comment about “tradition.” Blessings!

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