An article on how to read the Bible
Christian Life, Spiritual Disciplines

How to Read the Bible: Study Vs. Devotional Reading

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost July. 2018 is already over half over! Before we know it, fall will be here, school will be starting back up, and we’ll be getting ready to ease back into the “school year” routine. Somehow, even if you’re not in school, things seem to change pace in the fall.


In preparation of that (and to help you in any summer Bible reading you’re doing), for the month of July we’re going to be focusing on how to read the Bible. I realize that at first blush, that might sound pretty boring and basic. It’s just reading, right? In reality, it’s a bit more complicated.


Whether you’re new to reading the Bible or you’ve been reading it for a long time, you probably have questions about how to read the Bible. Or maybe you’re not sure where to start (or where to continue). That’s what this month’s theme is all about. I’m also planning on doing a few things on Facebook and Instagram that are tied to this theme over the next couple of weeks, so make sure to follow me there so you don’t miss out! Also, if you have specific questions, feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them as the month progresses.


This week, we’re going to look at the two different ways you can read your Bible. Yes, there are actually two different ways to read it: Study and Devotion. We’ll look at each mode of reading separately and then show why BOTH are important.


What Is Bible Study?

First studying. You hear the term “Bible study” quite a bit out there in the church. What does that really mean. Actually, it can mean two things. Bible study is a genre of Christian literature. It’s usually a workbook or curriculum that is meant to be used in a classroom or small group setting where people focus on a particular book of the Bible or a particular topic.


The second thing the term “Bible study” can refer to is just what it sounds like: studying the Bible. You don’t have to be using a “Bible study” curriculum or book to do so either. You can do it totally on your own, or you can pull in additional resources and other people.


Context Is Key

When you’re studying the Bible, you’re wanting to get a better idea of what’s in there. A huge part of Bible study is reading Bible passages in their context, where they’re placed in the Bible.


Sometimes, we know pieces of Scripture (maybe things that we memorized as a kid or that we’ve heard preachers or others say over and over again), but we haven’t really looked what was going on in the Bible when that piece was written. We often focus on verses instead of looking at what’s going on in the chapter or in the book where a verse is located. Sometimes the context of a verse makes a HUGE difference in what the meaning is.


Bible study also includes getting an idea of the cultural context of when the biblical books were written and when the stories took place. There are a few things in the Bible that make a lot more sense if you know a little bit about how people lived in Bible times. For instance, the book of Ruth can be pretty confusing if you don’t know anything about marriage practices in the time of the Old Testament. You’ll miss a big point in the story unless you do some research on that.

Reading the Bible as a whole can also help you get a better idea of how the pieces of the Bible are related. While the Bible is made up of a bunch of different books, those books all build off one another. Sometimes parts of the Bible are subtly referring back to other parts. Unless you’ve studied the Bible as whole, you might miss that.


Bible Study Tools

Bible study can seem like more of an academic or intellectual exercise. There’s some truth in that.  You’re reading the Bible to find out what it says and what that means. Don’t let that intimidate you!


There are many great tools out there that can help you! You can even get a special kind of Bible, a study Bible (here’s one example of one), that has some of those tools built in. Often study Bibles will have notes with important information about people, places, and common practices during Bible times. There are also other resources that can be helpful such as Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and study guides. I’m going to put together a post full of recommended tools at the end of the month, so be on the look out for that!


Devotions? What’s That?

If Bible study is more of the intellectual side of things, devotional reading of the Bible is more focused on the heart. When people talk about doing devotions using the Bible, they’re often talking about reading the Bible to try to hear God’s voice speak to them today.


In devotional reading, you’re not focused as much on the context of what you’re reading (though that may impact your thinking on a particular verse). You’re reading God’s Word to try to figure out what God wants you to hear for that day or for your season and how to apply what you hear to your life.


Narrowing In

While in Bible Study, you often want to look at a large passage or even a whole book, often in devotional reading you focus deeply on a verse or two. You can meditate (another word for thinking deeply and praying) on even one word or phrase in the Bible.

Tools for Devotional Reading

It’s not as academic, but there are still some great resources that you can use to guide your devotional reading. There are devotional books that can help guide your time. Or you could even use meditation practices like Lectio Divina to really try to quiet your mind, focus intensely on a small section of Scripture, and ask God what He would have you learn from them.


Study and Devotion: You Can’t Have One without the Other

Depending on your personality, as you’ve been reading these descriptions, one of them probably sounds more appealing to you. Some of us are more geared toward study (I’m one of them) and others are more drawn to devotional reading. That’s okay! We do need to realize that BOTH are important.


The Dangers of Only Studying

If you focus only on Study, you can easily get trapped within the details of the Bible without really letting its message impact your life. You might know a lot about the Bible, but if you only study the Bible academically, you won’t really come to know God very well. You might know a lot about him, but you won’t really know him. It would kind of be like Facebook stalking someone, but never actually interacting with them.


Just studying the Bible also isn’t going to change anything in your life. The Bible isn’t  meant to be just read and studied. It’s meant to be enacted. No one cares what you know about the Bible. However, they will care if your reading of the Bible causes you to treat them better. Just knowing a lot and not acting on it doesn’t do much. That’s also what got the Pharisees in trouble in the New Testament.


The Dangers of Only Devotional Reading

However, the flip side is also not the best. If you do a lot of devotional reading but never actually study the Bible, you can totally misunderstand pieces of Scripture. Just think of how many times soundbites from famous people have been twisted around by taking them out of their context. We can do the same thing with the Bible. That’s why we have to study!


Additionally, if you only read the Bible devotionally, you can become really inward focused. You can start looking at the Bible as a book that’s focused on you and your needs. Instead, the Bible is a book written for humanity. While God can speak to us individually through it, it’s meant to be shared and to be applied to all people.


Make It Fit You!

Study and devotional reading of the Bible are both really important if you really want to understand the Bible well and apply it to your life. That doesn’t mean you need to split your Bible reading up 50/50, but it does mean that you should have elements of both study and devotion in your Bible reading habits. We’ll talk a bit more about how to figure out what works well for you next week.


Another thing to note before I close out this week’s post: you don’t have do your Bible reading all on your own. You can also do Bible reading in a group, whether that’s devotional reading or study.


In my own life, I do my devotional reading on my own for the most part. Occasionally, I might do something in a church small group that counts as devotional reading. My study reading I more often do in a small group (though BSF), though I often will read theology and Bible books for study on my own as well.  The key is to find works best for you and to make sure you have elements of both study and devotion in your life.


If you have questions, comment below! I would also love you to comment if you have any Bible study or devotion tips to share. You never know who might need to hear it!


Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash


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  1. Love this sis! So very thorough and gives a great balanced view. Like you, I need a plan of some sort when studying my Bible. One devotional that I am really enjoying in the last 2 months has been First5app. It’s been such a blessing to me.

    1. Ashleigh Rich

      Thanks for the kind words! Having a plan (at least for me) is a must! I haven’t heard of First5app. I’ll have to check it out!

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