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Bible Study Guide The Basics

Although we’ve call this page "The Basics", there is much information here to benefit the experienced reader as well as the beginner.

Navigation Notes:  As with other long pages on our site, we place links at the end of most sections which minimize scrolling.  You may click on the "[TOC]" links to return to the Table of Contents.  If you follow a link to another page, you can click the "Back" button on your browser to return to this page.

Table of Contents

Why Read and Study the Bible

Studying the Bible will impact all aspects of your life.  Your worldview affects how you view life and the world around you.  I like to think of our worldview as a filter that surrounds us.  The purpose of a filter is to allow a pure substance required for proper operation to enter, while blocking impure substances that would do harm.  For example, an oil filter allows the required petroleum product to enter for proper lubrication, while blocking foreign particle which could harm the engine.  Similarly, all information that enters our brain must pass through our worldview filter.  By studying the Bible and developing a Biblical worldview, our filter will recognize anything contrary to the Word of God.

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General Info about the Bible

The Bible is a single volume consisting of 66 books divided into two sections known as the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT).  These testaments are interrelated in that, as the old saying goes, "the NT is concealed within the OT and the OT is revealed within the NT", thus you can’t properly understand one without the other.

The Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years, by approximately 40 different writers from various backgrounds in several different countries. Yet all the writer’s messages, because they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are in total harmony with each other.

The Bible answers some of our most basic questions about life.

Why are we here?
What is the purpose of Life
What happens after we die?
How can we get to Heaven (have eternal life)?

The Bible’s Central Message is God working out His purpose with man.  God created man, then when man rejected God, God enacted His plan through His Son, Jesus Christ, to provide a way of salvation to those who believe.  We see this plan was devised from the beginning in the OT and fulfilled by Jesus in the NT.  In short, the Bible is about Jesus, the coming Messiah of the OT and our Savior in the NT.  The OT people looked forward by faith to His coming. Today, by faith, we can look back at the Cross for our salvation, and look forward with assurance to the future.

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Navigating the Bible

Navigating though the Bible is fairly simple.  As we mentioned, the Bible is divided into books, chapters and verses.   The standard method in which these are written is "Book" "Chapter" "colon" Verse(s).  The best way to learn this is by a few examples.

Most everyone has heard someone mention "John Three Sixteen", which would be written "John 3:16" or "Jn 3:16".  This means the book of "John", chapter 3, verse 16.  To find this verse, go to the book of "John" (names of the books, along with common abbreviations, will usually be located in the front of the Bible).  Each "chapter" in the book of John will be marked with a large distinct number, so flip through until you get to chapter 3.  In chapter 3, you’ll notice a bunch of smaller numbers within the text.  These are "verse" numbers, so just look on down until you find verse 16 and you’re there.  You might also see "John 3:1-18".  This means the book of "John", chapter 3, verses "1" through "18".

Here’s slightly more complicated one, "Rev 2:1 - 3:15".  In notating scripture, the number to the left of a colon always indicates a chapter, the number to the right of the colon indicates a verse.  So in this case, go to the Table of Contents and you’ll find that "Rev" indicates the book of Revelation. (The abbreviator may not use the same abbreviation that is in your table of contents, but it is usually very easy to look through the names of the books and figure out which one to which the abbreviator is referring).  You then go to the book of Revelation and our reading will start at chapter 2, verse 1, and end at chapter 3, verse 15.

Sometimes, the writer will just indicate the book and chapter.  If you see "Mark 10" or "Mk 10", this will indicate chapter 10 of the book of Mark.  There are a few cases where a book of the Bible has only one chapter.  In this case "Jude 12" would indicate the twelfth verse of the book of Jude rather than the twelfth chapter.  These cases will be obvious.

One other situation you might see is "John 3:1-18 NKJV".  Letter abbreviations following the chapter and verse indicate the "translation" or the Bible that is being used.  In this example, NKJV stands for the New Kings James Version of the Bible.  See our article on Modern English Translations for more information.

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Bible Canon

The word "canon" means "measuring rod" or "rule".  The Bible Canon is the books that were accepted as scripture.  In determining which books would be included, the church fathers at various councils utilized the following litmus tests.

  1. Was it authoritative?  that is, it needed to have the sense of saying "Thus said the Lord" (OT) or "Verily, I say unto you" (NT).
  2. Was it written by or approved by a prophet (OT) or an apostle (NT).  NT examples of non-apostle writing backed by an apostle are Mark (Peter) and Luke (Paul).
  3. Was it authentic?  That is, its doctrines must be in harmony with previous revelation.
  4. Was it dynamic?  Did it have the power to change lives?
  5. Was it received and accepted by people of God?  that is, the early church.

It is very important to note that the authority of the scriptures do not depend upon these men.  The church fathers only "recognized" which scriptures were authoritative.  The scriptures would have been authoritative whether the councils had recognized them or not.

The list of books that make up the canon varies with different religions.   In Protestant Christianity, the canon  consists of the 39 books in the OT and 27 books in the NT.  Judaism recognizes on the books of the OT.  Roman Catholics added seven books of the Apocrypha in 1546 in reaction to the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church maintains that the Apocrypha has always inspired. This position rejected by the Protestants.

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Bible Apologetics

The word apologetics (from the Greek apologia) means not "to apologize" but to give a defense for what you believe to be true.  The Bible itself states for us to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15).

Here a list of some of the evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible.  You can find additional detailed information in our Apologetics section and our Resource Links page.

  1. As we’ve already mentioned, the unity of its message in spite of the number of writers, with their various backgrounds, locations and situations, who wrote over a great period of time.
  2. The fulfillment of Bible prophecies without error.
  3. Its miraculous survival and preservation through time. persecution and criticism.
  4. Historical and Scientific accuracies.
  5. The evidence and confirmation of archaeological discoveries.
  6. Accounts of Biblical events from non-biblical writers.
  7. The number of former atheists that set out to disprove the Bible, and became some of its most passionate defenders.

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Study Tools

One of the most common questions that we frequently get (after "What translations should I use?"), pertains to what types of scholarly tools are available and useful.  Here’s a few suggestions to help you reach a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.  We suggest that you read the Scriptures and do your own work based on our Bible Interpretation page prior to consulting these aides.

Parallel Bibles

These Bibles allow you to read two or more translations within the same volume.  We recommend one with different types of translation (see the Bible Translations) page.  For example, a popular parallel edition contains the NKJV (, ESV, NLT, and the Message.

Annotated or Study Bibles

These Bibles contain marginal notes and/or footnotes citing textual variants (discrepancies of the ancient text which offers alternate readings).  Another common feature is scripture cross-referencing, which allow you to follow a certain thread of thought throughout the text.  Some editions contain commentary notes. While these can be very useful, it is critical to remember that these notes are a scholar(s)’ interpretation of the scripture, and not scripture itself.

Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms

I believe that, next to the Bible, these are the most important and profitable texts that a person can study.  I personally think it is a tragedy that these documents, once required teaching within the Church, are now mostly ignored.  Keep in mind that these documents are subordinate in authority to the Scriptures themselves.  Many of these documents are posted at our Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms page.


These are indispensable tools for every serious Bible student.  Commentaries provide the insight of various scholars which serves a sort of a check and balance to our own conclusions.  One volume commentaries have the advantage of a lower price, but are usually not very in-depth.  They are probably best for the beginning student, since they usually are designed to do the work that you also can do after a little more experience.  Commentary sets are much better.  As with the single volume, we recommend a set put together by a team of scholars, since each writer has usually developed a special expertise in an individual book. 

The most important criteria in choosing a commentary is that it be exegetically based (finding the original meaning and context of the scripture), and the author should discuss and evaluate all possible meanings (not just the one you agree with), including the reasons for his choice of the correct interpretation.  A good commentary should also provide historical and cultural background, as well as bibliographic information to allow you to do further study if you wish. 

So, how do you go about selecting a good commentary?  The best way that I know is to first check out the individual book introductions to insure it contains sufficient background information to understand the occasion of the book. Next, pick out a few "difficult" scriptures and see how helpful the commentary is in explaining the various meanings.  On a personal note, I’m not familiar with all available volumes, but I don’t recommend the popular Barclay Commentaries.  They are easily readable and have excellent illustrations, but tend to "water down" the Scripture message.  Before we move to the next tool, let me repeat that the commentary should be used only after you’ve done your own work.

Topical Bible

This is a Bible in which scripture is arranged by topic.  These are great for researching all scripture that pertains to a certain subject.  Nave’s is the most popular, although I also like Baker’s because it arranges the topics by the major doctrines.


These books list every word within a certain Bible translation in alphabetical order along with every Bible verse in which the word appears.  A good concordance will also cross-reference every word back to the word in the original language, that is the Hebrew root for OT words and the Greek root for NT words.   Strong’s Concordance (based on the KJV words) is probably the most popular.  I like the Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance.  It’s preferable to get a concordance based upon the same translation as your main study Bible.

Bible Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Handbook

These are invaluable for looking up info on Bible characters, events, places, customs and much more.

Bible Atlas

Many scripture verses contain geographical references, often to places whose names have changed or that no longer exist.  This is where a good atlas comes in handy.  Its maps and charts help form a picture in our mind’s eye, allowing us to more closely follow the narratives.

Hebrew / Greek Lexicons

A lexicon is basically a specialized dictionary which relates each word with its usage within the Biblical text and categorizes its nuances of meaning.  These tools are for advanced students who have a knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets.

Hebrew / Greek Interlinear Bible

Another great tool for the advanced student, these Bibles present a verse-by-verse comparison of the original Hebrew or Greek language along with an English translation.  Usually the original language lines appears just above the English, but some editions may have a different arrangement, such as the English translation being in the margin.  There are also "reverse interlinears" in which the English translation appears first and the original Hebrew or Greek follows in the order of the English words.  These can be used with Lexicons and concordances.

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What's Next

You should now have the basic understanding to begin reading and studying the Bible.  Please contact us if you have any questions or suggestions regarding this page.  If not, go on over to our Bible Reading Plans or return to the Main Study Guide page.

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