God On The Net

Studying The Bible

Also see:
On-Line Bible Study Tools
On-Line Study Tools - Other Religions (Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam)
Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary
Bible Dictionary

"What Bible study software is available?"

There is a LOT of it, for different platforms, at different prices (ranging from free to extremely expensive), and with vastly varying features, quality, and performance. The person who wrote the alt.bible FAQ from which the Questions About the Bible this page is derived from uses the Online Bible and Parsons Quickverse the most.

BIBLESOURCE from Zondervan Publishing

This is my primary Bible software. I bought a DOS version in 1993. Later I found a Windows version for five dollars.

I like the software because it is relatively easy to use and allows multi-condition searches, e.g. find:  house AND (food OR drink)  It also allows creating and recalling custom search ranges, e.g., John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation.

Like most biblical scholars, I do not particularly like the NIV. The primary reason I use it for the website is because the Bible text is indexed. For example, a computer search that can take two minutes on unindexed text takes less than one second with indexed text. Of course, indexed versions of the NASB, NKJV, etc. are available, but not cheap.

THE BIBLE LIBRARY from Ellis Enterprises, Inc.

I also found an excellent CD-ROM, The Bible Library from Ellis Enterprises, Inc. This is my primary Bible study software. It has NINE Bibles, 5 word studies, 6 dictionaries and references, 2 commentaries, 101 hymn stories, and 3,000 sermon outlines.

These are the things I don't like about this program: (1) limited searching capability -- you can specify a maximum of two search items (2) The text isn't indexed.  This means that the text is actually read for each search.  A search that takes under 1 second with BibleSource could take 2-3 minutes with Ellis.  I now have an "image" of the CD-ROM on computer (2.4GHz with UDMA-133 hard disk) Also, it only produces one search result at a time, i.e., if you search for "the Rock", it finds the next occurrence, and then you have to press F3 to continue.

COMPTON'S INTERACTIVE BIBLE from Compton's NewMedia, Inc. [NIV]

Let me state upfront that I generally am not impressed by multimedia presentations.  I feel they tend to emphasize flash and sizzle over substance, and the "TV" aspect tends to distract.

I bought this for $40 US at CompUSA but I later saw it for about $15 at the computer flea-market. I haven't used it much because it's not as suited for my purposes as the BibleSource.

This will probably appeal to many people who are not interested in "scholarly" study.  It includes video "tours", music, art, etc.

"Where can I download and read the Bible on the Internet?"

There are many places. Here are some good starting places:

http://www.ebible.org/bible - World English Bible, plus lots of links

http://www.bf.org - lots of links

http://www.cdrom.com - lots of downloads

http://www.bible.org - NET Bible to read on line

http://www.gospelcom.net/bible/ - NIV, NASB, etc. to read (not download)


Pray before beginning a study session.

The most important thing to understand about studying the Bible is that it can't be understood solely through human reason and the intellectual process.  A human being is a spirit, has a soul, and lives in a body.  The Bible is aimed at our spirit.  Our human reasoning processes take place in our soul (will, reason, intellect, emotions), which is strongly influenced by our body.  The only way we can really get a good understanding of the Bible is by God's revelation to our spirit.  The best way to do this is to pray before beginning a study session. Ask God to send the Holy Spirit to give you insight and understanding.

Satan tries to stop people from studying the Bible.

Satan tries to stop people from studying the Bible.  You should develop a plan of study, e.g., 20 minutes a day starting at 7:00 a.m.

There are spirits that can induce sleepiness -- they normally will do this when you first start a program of study.  If you talk to people who are new to Bible study, they will routinely say "I try to study, but I keep falling asleep."  This is one reason that it is better to start studying in the morning than in the evening.

Satan will raise all sorts of distractions, e.g., telephone calls, things you need to catch up on, etc.  This is another of his tactics. When someone first starts a program of Bible study, all sorts of little distractions suddenly start to show up.  Many of them are legitimate, just not terribly important.  This is another reason why early-morning Bible study is recommended.

Use a Modern English translation.

Sadly, the King James Version of the Bible has become one of Satan's best weapons.  Many people new to Bible study use it because they recognize the name.  They quickly become confused by the Shakespearean-era language and decide "I can't understand the Bible.  The language is too difficult" so they give up.  Also, several hundred words have changed meanings since King James' time.  This confuses people because they don't know what the words mean -- but they think they do!

There are many fine modern translations, e.g., New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV).  (Avoid the New World Translation, which is from the Jehovah's Witnesses.  It contains many intentional mistranslations.)

Even if you are an adult, don't be embarrassed to use a translation specifically for children.  The New Century Version is particularly good even though it can be used to teach at a third-grade level.  I also particularly like the Contemporary English Version, which is written to be easy to hear rather than easy to read.  

Use a study Bible.

A study Bible is a lot like a college textbook -- it has outlines, topic labels, explanatory footnotes, introductory materials, etc.  (College textbooks generally have Summary and Discussion Questions sections at the end.  I have not seen any study Bibles with these.)  Study Bibles generally use modern translations such as the NIV or the NKJV.

Study from a book, not a computer.

Every person learns to process information in a particular way.  Perhaps in the future people will be so accustomed to using computers that they will be able to process information from computers easier than from books.  That day has not yet arrived.  Lawyers (and many other people) have to do detailed analysis of texts on a daily basis.  We all learn quickly that no matter how much time we spend working with computers, there are some things that you just won't spot until you see the text on paper.

Read aloud.

Sometimes, read aloud.  Certain passages are easier to understand if you hear them than if you just read them silently.  Also, the Bible was not meant to be skimmed.  People who have studied "reading techniques" tend to "absorb" several words at once rather than reading each word individually.  This may be fine for getting a general understanding of a newspaper article or an office memo, but it severely limits your ability to understand the Bible.

Also, by reading aloud you'll read slower, and the inflection will help you to understand better.

If you still have a problem understanding a section, type out the text or write it in longhand.

Again, as a lawyer, I often have to do detailed analysis of texts.  Several years ago I did a research project where I had to type in large blocks of text from a number of  court decisions.  I was amazed at how much I caught typing that I didn't catch reading.  The difference is because no matter how fast you type, it's still a lot slower than reading, and you wind up paying more attention.  (However, you have to be careful not to fall into an "In the eyes, out the fingers'" mode, where you are typing the text without paying attention to what it says.)

If you still have a problem understanding the section, look up the words in a dictionary -- even the words you think you know.

Do you know what "age" means?  God deals with mankind in a series of ages.  (In theology these are also referred to as dispensations or economies.)  From Moses to Jesus the Jews were in the age of law.  We are in the age of grace.  Do you know what "justified" means?  In court or on the job it would mean you were right to take a certain action.  In the New Testament it means saved. Most larger dictionaries indicate special meanings limited to law, accounting, theology, etc.

Learn how to do a "word study".

A word study examines the meaning and usage of particular words more in detail.  John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word ..."  Huh?  The "Word"?  Is that really what the original says? No, it's not!  The original says the logos.  The Greek word logos has a much broader meaning than just 'word'.

To do a word study, look at the passage in context.  What happened before?  What happened after? Who was the person talking to?  Look up the word in a good dictionary.  Look it up in a Bible dictionary, too.  Read the same passage(s) in several versions of the Bible.  If you can read another language even just a little, look up the word in that language.

Is the word being used as Bible jargon? -- e.g., "justified" means saved, "abide" means to live, "dead" means spiritually dead, etc.  Look it up in an English-Biblical Greek or Hebrew dictionary. Check out the Strong's Number. Look for the word in other passages, using a Topical Bible or a Concordance; many Bibles have a Concordance at the back.  How is it being used in those?  Look up the English word in a thesaurus. Look up the related words, e.g., worship, respect, revere, reverence, awe.

For a good introduction to doing a word study see Word Study of 'Iniquity' in Matthew 24:12 (broken link)

Develop a plan of study.

When studying the Bible,  many people follow what I call "The Tower of Bible" approach (not to be confused with The Tower of Babel) instead of developing a plan.

Imagine you are putting up a 66-story building.  The first story is Genesis, the second is Exodus, etc.

The average person starts building his building at the fortieth floor, i.e., the Gospel of Matthew. Then he "builds" the forty-first floor, i.e., the Gospel of Mark., then the 42nd, Luke, the 43rd, John, then part of the 44th, Acts.  Then he starts building the first floor -- Genesis--, the second -- Exodus--, the third -- Leviticus--, gets bored part way through Numbers, jumps to the Psalms or the Proverbs, etc.

Who is this guy Jesus?  What is a Messiah?  Did He just show up one day and declare Himself to be God?  Does He fit in with anything else?  If Jesus changed a lot of things, do I need to study the stuff that came before, i.e., the Old Testament?  And what the heck is a "Testament" anyway?

Would you consider putting up a building that way?  Then why study the Bible that way?  One goal of the materials on this website is to give you "the big picture" - what is God?  What is His personality?  Why did He create us?  What does He want from us? and  so forth.  Once you understand those things you have a foundation, a framework, and you can fill it in in a way that will make sense.

Attend Bible study at a church.

Most adults have never attended a Bible study group.  Adult Bible study groups are not like Sunday School for children and teenagers.  (If you attend one that is, find a different one!)  A lot of Sunday School for youngsters is in the format "I'm the teacher, you're all jerks, so shut up, listen, and accept everything I say without question, 'cause God said it and if you don't believe it you're gonna go to Hell."  (Sound familiar? . . .)  Adults won't put up with that attitude.  In adult Bible sessions, somebody (frequently the teacher or group leader) will usually ask "Why are we studying this?"  "What is the message here?"  "What point is the author trying to make?"  "How does this apply to my life?"

Study the Bible to see what it says, not to find support for your opinions.

This is one of the most dangerous and most common mistakes in Bible study.  A lot of people aren't interested in what God has to say, in what God means.  They just want something they can use to bolster their own opinions.  So, they go looking through the Bible to find passages that, by themselves, seem to support the reader's view.  Then they say "the Bible says ..." without understanding what the passage means when viewed from the perspective of God's plan.

Some passages of the Bible are meant literally, some are symbolic, some are sarcastic, etc.

Like any intelligent, living being, God has a personality.  Some things He says are meant literally, some are symbolic (most of Revelation), some are sarcastic.  (See the discussion of idols in Isaiah 44-48)  This is not always obvious; a good study Bible is particularly useful for this.

Don't read the Bible too much.

Many people say "You can't study the Bible too much."

They're wrong -- it's a simple as that.  Note that I said "Don't read the Bible too much." People who think "All I need to read is the Bible itself" ignore an important fact -- certain Gifts of the Spirit.  Particularly, the Holy Spirit gives some individuals the gift of wisdom and some the gift of knowledge, also called the gift of understanding the deep things of God.  (I have that.) These gifts are for the benefit of all believers, not just that individual.

The Holy Spirit sometimes gives a spiritual insight to a particular individual, e.g., when He led Martin Luther to understand that we are justified by faith alone.  If the only religious thing you read is the Bible, how are you going to find out about these revelations and insights? God won't give them to you -- you are too busy limiting yourself to only one thing He has given!

Also, there is another problem. Did Jesus celebrate Chanukah? You can read the entire Bible cover to cover a million times and you will never know the answer. Why? Because the Bible refers to Chanukah as "the festival of lights." How do I know? Because I read that in other materials. Jesus prophesied that the (Second) Temple would be destroyed. Did that happen? It's not described in the Bible. The Bible says that Israel would become a nation in a single day. Did that happen? Again, no matter how many times you read the Bible you can't tell which prophecies have been fulfilled, etc., without looking at sources outside the Bible, such as post-biblical historical materials.

Reading the Bible itself should be part of your plan for spiritual growth, not your only approach.

This is connected with the "studying the Bible too much" point.  You should also read Bible-based books about the Bible and about specific topics, e.g., witnessing, parenting, dealing with guilt, fear, etc.

An excellent introduction to theology I strongly recommend is:

Little, Paul E. Know What You Believe. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, Rev. Ed. 1987

Another book by the same author is Know Why You Believe, which deals with Christian Apologetics.  (I got the 'pierced feet' part of A Lawyer Examines the Swoon Theory from that book.)

Both of Little's books are general introductions for the layman. They are short (around 135 pages), highly readable and thought-provoking without being 'dry' and 'heavy', like most textbooks.  You can find them at most Christian bookstores.

Don't let studying the Bible become a substitute for Christian works.

This is also related to "reading the Bible too much."  Many people fall into a trap: their idea of being a Christian is: (1) Attend Church (2) Pray  (3) Study the Bible.  . . . That's it!

James said "Faith without works [deeds, actions] is dead."  If the only thing you are doing is attending church, praying and studying, how are you helping your fellow man?  Jesus didn't just pray and study -- He helped people, too!  He took actions -- He spoke to people; He fed people; He counseled people.


(c) 1998-2004 by Rick Reinckens

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