5 Bad Ways to Study the Bible

I love the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 119:103: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

As I consider the readers of this blog, this verse becomes my prayer for you. I want you to crave the Word of God. I want you to taste and see that it’s sweeter than honey. Because I know the Bible will transform you, I want you to read it. But I don’t just want you to read it. I want you to read it rightly.

Check out 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

If we are encouraged to handle God’s Word rightly, we must consider what it looks like to handle it wrongly. Here are five bad ways to study the Bible.

The Claw

You know those machines that entice you to use a mechanical claw to snag a prize? Though intriguing, they are a con. Your chances of actually winning something are slim, while your chances of giving away some of your hard-earned money is guaranteed. In the same way, when we pick and choose certain portions of Scripture as truth and disregard others, we’re being tricked.

In the same letter where Paul urged Timothy to handle God’s Word “rightly,” he said this:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

What part of Scripture is God-breathed? All of it.
Which parts are useful? All of them.

Proverbs 30:5 tells us “every word of God proves true.”

When it comes to the Bible, it’s all true.

When it comes to the Bible, it’s all true. Every word of it. We cannot simply pick and chose the verses and stories we like, hoping for a winner.

Every word in the Bible is part of a verse.
Every verse is part of a paragraph. Every paragraph is part of a book.
Every book is part of the whole of Scripture.
Because that is the case, no verse of Scripture should be divorced from the verses around it. Learn to widen the lens and look for the bigger picture.

The Instagram Bible

I love Jen Wilkin’s post “The Instagram Bible.” In it, she warns us:

Beware the Instagram Bible, my daughters—those filtered frames festooned with feathered verses, adorned in all manner of loops and tails, bedecked with blossoms, saturated with sunsets, culled and curated just for you.

Beware lest it become for you your source of daily bread. It is telling a partial truth.

Avoid the trap of just sticking to verses that look pretty and make you feel good. There are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand. Let’s read them anyway. There are parts of the Bible that are hard to accept. Let’s read them anyway.

The purpose of the Bible is to reveal who God is. (Remember that. We’ll come back to it.) The hard-to-read, hard-to-digest parts of Scripture help us develop a more complete understanding of who God is than simply sticking to the “good” stuff does.

The Magic 8 Ball

Maybe you’ve tried this method. You need a dose of truth to get you through your day, so you flip open your Bible, read something out of context and try to find a way to apply it to your life. It’s like shaking a Magic 8 Ball hoping for actual wisdom. By random chance you may get something applicable, but I wouldn’t recommend taking cues from the Magic 8 Ball for a major life decision.

You wouldn’t randomly flip open your history book hoping to understand history or randomly flip open your science book hoping to grasp chemistry. Understanding those subjects takes time, effort, and intentionality.

So it is with God’s Word. Don’t just make it your aim to read God’s Word; make it your aim to study it, to know it inside and out.

The Message > The Messenger

I think Bible teachers are great (I am one!), but sometimes we treasure what someone says about God’s Word more than we value the Word itself. I want you to find pastors and bloggers and podcasters who help you understand God’s Word, but never as a substitute for reading God’s Word on your own. Ultimately, nothing anyone could ever say (or write) about the Bible matters more than what God has said Himself in the Bible. We need to elevate the message of God above the messengers God uses to help get the Word into our hearts.

The Self-Help Manual

When it comes to the Bible, there is one idea that matters most. Here ’tis: The purpose of the Bible is to reveal who God is.

The purpose of the Bible is to reveal who God is.

God has taken the truth about His character, His people, and His plans for the future and written them all down for us. Why? So that we can know Him.

Since the Bible is a book about God, that means it is not a book about us. We don’t read it to try and understand ourselves better or our circumstances better, but to try and understand God better.

When we read the Bible, we need the Holy Spirit’s help to take a God-centered vs. a me-centered approach. We don’t first ask, “What does this tell me about me?”, we first ask “What does this tell me about God?” Application is only ever an outflow of right understanding of who God is.

While the Bible does contain beautiful truth to help us live our lives, more importantly it tells the story of a beautiful God who gave His life for us.

Which circles me right back to you. I want you to read the Word of God. I want you to love it, to crave it, but know that it is not just another book on your shelf. It is not another tick on your to-do list. It is the holy, inspired, eternal Word of God. Let’s ask Him to help us handle it rightly, deal?

About Author

Erin Davis

Erin is passionate about pointing young women toward God's Truth. She is the author of several books and a frequent speaker and blogger to women of all ages. Erin lives on a small farm in the midwest with her husband and kids. When she's not writing, you can find her herding goats, chickens, and children.

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  • Emily Anderson

    Thanks Erin! This post is really helpful as I’m trying to find a new subject/book to study in the Bible. I’m currently reading but not really studying Matthew. Any suggestions for me?

  • Kaitlyn Moran

    Thanks Erin! Really opened my eyes to how people shouldn’t study the Bible. What could be some tips to how we, as Christians should study the Bible the right way?

    • You might find “Bible Study: A Student’s Guide” to be a helpful resource. 🙂

      I’ve still got a long way to grow in the area of Bible study, but I’m reading through the book of Jeremiah right now and pondering the idea of God’s judgement on his people according to their deeds while yet seeing the marvelous promises of God’s faithfulness to his people, how he gives them so many opportunities to repent and how, though he hates their sin and will punish it, he loves his people and will restore them.

      Anyways, my point in that is just that it’s helpful to read through whole books of the Bible and see what truths they communicate about God, how they point out the sinfulness of man, and how they point to the gospel, and then how all that applies to us. It’s a broad and general but pretty effective/easy way to study the Bible.

      I also like to write my thoughts down in the margins of my journaling Bible or a notebook too, so that I stay focused more and really think about what is being said.

  • Denise Frausto

    This is very helpful, thanks Erin! I just had a question about a bible I just recently purchased it’s called She Reads Truth, the translation is Christian Standard Bible, is that a reliable translation? I know there are many translations out there that aren’t reliable. I just wanted to know if this one is?

    • erinleedavis

      Hi Denise,

      The CSB is a solid translation. The goal of that translation is to combine accuracy and readability. I actually had the joy of working on the She Reads Truth Bible (I got to write several of the devos). It’s a beautiful, valuable resource. I’m so glad you got a copy!

      Grace & Peace!

      Erin Davis

  • Aimee

    Amen! Great article Erin, filled with important truths – thank you!

  • Aimee

    Amen! Great article Erin, filled with important truths – thank you!

  • So true! Thanks, Erin!

    https://tizziestidbits.wordpress.com

  • hannah

    this was just what I needed yesterda. Thanks Erin so much.

  • Krizyl Saguibal

    I like this 🙂 Yeah , reading the bible is not only choosing what we think is best for us but to read each part of it, mediate it and apply it 🙂