In order for young people to grow in their faith, learning how to study the Bible is incredibly important. Youth leaders play a big role in this, teaching teenagers to love and understand God’s Word.
Let me begin with a story: I grew up in a home without a dishwasher. To be more accurate, I grew up in a home of four children. We were the dishwashers. Then one summer in high school, I landed a nannying job watching two little boys. And everything went well until I broke their kitchen.
Being a helpful young woman, I loaded the dishwasher after lunch one day and decided to run the wash cycle. Next, I fished around under the sink and found a solo container of soap. Dish soap.
Did I mention my family didn’t have a dishwasher?
So I loaded that little dispenser area with the blue gel and ushered the boys into the playroom. Twenty minutes later, I returned to find child-size mountains of bubbles building on the hardwood floors, overflowing from the dishwasher like lava from an industrial volcano.
As I started writing this post about teaching teens how to study the Bible, I thought back to that mortifying experience. And this is the first time I’ve been grateful for such an embarrassing mistake.
Sometimes we approach the Bible like an unfamiliar machine. That is, we fear we’ll somehow get something wrong and ruin the whole experience. Well, I have good news:
You can’t break the Bible!
Yet as kids get started reading and studying God’s Word, I recommend 8 helpful tips to keep in mind (and in heart).
Teach Teens How to Study the Bible
Talk with God. Let him know you want to hear from him. Quieting your heart is vital to learning how to study the Bible. Put away your to-do list and don’t give space for random thoughts of squirrels and shiny things. I keep a notebook nearby to write down things that may distract me from my time with the Lord. Once I get those down on paper, I don’t have to give them any further thought.
2. Seek love, not knowledge.
“Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NIV).
It’s easy to read Scripture for the sake of knowledge or to check it off the list. But that’s the lesser option.
Instead, look for the love in what you read because God is love. Don’t settle for knowing about him. We want to know him, and that level of knowing comes when God talks with us through what we read. I spent so many years learning facts and trivia about God. But trust me: Knowing him is way better.
3. Choose a version.
These days, we’re blessed with access to many translations of the Bible. Many new believers like to read the New International Version (NIV). The most accurate translations for in-depth study are considered to be the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV) or the English Standard Version (ESV).
There’s no harm reading other versions. In fact, I like to read the same passage in multiple versions to see what wording God may use to speak to me. I especially enjoy the modern wording of The Message (MSG), though I find it most helpful to read alongside other versions for word study. “The goal of The Message is to engage people in the reading process and help them understand what they read. This is not a study Bible, but rather ‘a reading Bible.’” Read more about The Message version here.
For example, consider these different wordings:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17, NIV).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16, ESV).
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again” (John 3:16, MSG).
- Context. What’s happening in this scenario? Who is the audience? A particular Bible verse may speak to you, but what does that verse mean in the context of the whole passage?
- Word meaning. What’s the meaning of the word in the source language? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and a few books in Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Looking up words in the source language gives a depth of understanding you don’t get when just reading in English. For example, I may read “For God so loved the world” in John 3:16. My mind naturally thinks of “love” as affectionate or romantic, but that’s not what this verse means. In the original Greek, “love” here is agapao, which means goodwill, to be fond of. God’s love for us, the love that led him to give Jesus for our sins, wasn’t an emotional response. It was prompted by love of goodwill. If you’re interested in doing word studies, I recommend the free website Blue Letter Bible. Pick the KJV and check the box for “Strong’s,” and you’ll see concordance links next to words. That way, you can easily see what they mean in the original language.
- Connections. The next step in how to study the Bible involves looking for connections within the passage and to other passages. How does John 3:16 relate to the rest of the chapter? What other passages speak to the same topic? For example:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).
- Application. How does this passage apply to your life? What is God saying to you through it?
5. Consider where to begin.
For a great place to start reading, try the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). They provide four different accounts of Jesus’ life, based on the perspective of their authors. Psalms and Proverbs also are great books to begin with. That’s because Psalms is full of praise, and Proverbs is basically tweetable-sized tidbits of wisdom.