You've somehow ninja-stepped your way to the living room at too-early o'clock in the morning without waking any of the sleeping babes. You've poured yourself a hot cup of creamer with a splash of coffee. You've got pen and paper in hand ready to take copious study notes and press hard into Jesus.
I know. I know. This is a motherhood anomaly that you've heard about from friends and read about in books but have never actually experienced yourself. But, for the sake of this post, just play along.
You sit yourself down in your favorite comfy chair...the one with all the fluffy girlie pillows...you exhale a long sigh, and you open your Bible.(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)
For lack of any concrete direction, you just sorta let the pages fall open to a random passage hoping that you'll find some life-giving RHEMA today. But while an eenie-meenie-miney-mo approach works well when selecting a pair of earrings to wear for the day, it's not usually the best plan for a Bible study.
You need purpose. You need a point. You need a compass.
Over the years, I've done the full spectrum of Bible study methods.
I've done the Bible read through.
I've done the devotionals.
I've done the study guides.
the "10 questions to ask about this passage" types
I've done them all.
And the truth is, there is no one RIGHT way or one perfect resource.
That is, except for the Bible itself.So, I suppose if I am dolling out Bible study resource suggestions, that's the most appropriate place to start...
To do a Bible study, you need a Bible.
With the plethora of translations and varieties, however, it can sometimes be difficult to find the right fit. I, personally, prefer the ESV Study Bible. I love the translation and I appreciate the theological insight and extras offered. Unlike regular Bibles, study Bibles offer a small sampling of in depth Bible study tools in the back, front, and margins and are always an economically efficient way to build a home Bible study library.
But, if a study Bible is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of others. Be sure to check out this really handy Bible translation chart for a quick comparison of all the major versions to help you find the one that's right for you.
Once you've decided on a Bible, you can choose to stop right there--do a simple Bible read through plan, select specific verses to read that focus on a struggle you are having or an attribute of God you'd like to learn more about, or join a free online study
you can head to your local Bible bookstore or Amazon and grab a companion study guide or devotional that will provide some purposeful direction to your study.
Neither is better or best. Your choice will be determined by your personality, your previous experience with Scripture, the amount of time you have to devote to study, and perhaps your finances.
For the purpose of this conversation, though, I'm going to assume you prefer the latter. So, I've put together a list of some of my favorite resources. I've divided them into three categories based on the amount of time and thought commitment they each require.
Devotionals tend to be congruent with the calendar and provide 365 short readings and Scripture passages focusing on a particular topic. They are typically application-oriented and show you how a particular verse applies to your everyday life or how it can be lived out in 21st century faith. They are often short in length--perfect for those busy days with lots of Littles when you can't devote large chunks of time to Bible study. While they don't tend to offer as much substance as an in-depth Bible study, they can be a refreshing drink during a season of hard draught.
Here are some of my favorites.
Bible Studies- deep
While a devotional book tends to have a ME focus (How can I apply this passage to MY life?), Bible studies tend to be more GOD focused (What does this passage teach me about God, His plans, His Word, and the Life-and-Times of Christ?) Bible studies tend to go deeper and require you to dig...but with guidance and a basic framework. They can be topical in nature or focus on one particular book of Scripture. Most require reader feedback either in the form of questions to mentally ponder or workbook pages to complete.
Here are some of my favorites.
Beth Moore Studies
Since Beth Moore studies are by far my most favorite studies, I thought they warrant a quick side note. I have facilitated AND have participated in a few of these studies in a group setting over the years. But, I have done most of them all on my own...in the comfort of my own living room. If you choose to do a Beth Moore study, might I offer you a quick word of encouragement...THEY ARE HARD SOMETIMES. Encouraging, right?!
What I mean to say is that these studies can seem long, daunting, and out-of-reach for the young mom who doesn't have 45 minutes a day to devote to personal Bible study. I know. I've been there. But, don't be afraid to go at your own pace. Although each day's lesson is typically 4 pages long, for many years, I could only commit to completing one page a day. That was it. One page. Since I did them on my own and never joined a Bible study group, I sadly had to forgo the video teaching time. (Most can now be streamed online for a small fee.) But on the upside, I could set my schedule and go as slow as I liked. Each 6-9 week course often took me 6 months to a year to complete, but so what?! Forward motion is forward motion, no matter how small.
Study Tools- deeper
Whether you have the time to dig deep each day during your personal study or you just want to have a handful of good study tools to use as a reference every so often, I highly recommend investing in a few good resources. While these can all, to some extent, be found online or in an app, I prefer having a hardback copy to sift though because my seventy-year-old aunt has more tech skills than I ever will.
I will list my top picks for study tools in order of my preference, give a brief overview of each, and provide links to the ones I prefer.
A concordance provides an alphabetical listing of every word in the Bible and all of the verses that contain that word. It's a great tool to use when you want to know what the Bible has to say about a particular topic. Some concordances will even give the Hebrew and/or Greek translation of the word.
These are compilations of the thoughts of famous Bible scholars, teachers, and preachers. The authors have divided the Bible verse-by-verse, section-by-section, chapter-by-chapter, or book-by-book and have, to the best of their ability, provided explanation and helpful comments about the passages. Commentaries can be single-volume works or span an entire set. A word of warning about commentaries however: they are ONE man's (or a group of men's) interpretation of Scripture. Even learned Bible scholars can be wrong. Do not take anything you read in a commentary as FACT, but merely as a possible human explanation for the supernatural words of God.
- The Moody Bible Commentary- I like this one because it is a concise, one-volume work and offers the opinions of many Bible scholars, not just one.
- The Bible Knowledge Commentary- This is a 2-volume set. Great for at-home use.
- The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary- The photographs and illustrations make this a great commentary for beginners. While it is not as thorough as others, it gives a nice overview of chunks of Scripture.
Bible Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
Like all dictionaries and encyclopedias, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia gives a basic definition of an unfamiliar word, lists key passages where that word can be found in Scripture, and provides a short overview.
- The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible (5 volume set)
Bible Handbooks or Cultural Reference Guides
I'm not gonna lie, these are my favorite kind of study tools. I love learning about the culture and societal norms during the life of Christ and the patriarchs of faith. A Bible handbook helps to unpack cultural nuances and give a better understanding of passages within their historical context. (Here's a head scratcher for you that a cultural guide can help solve: When Luke mentions that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in "the inn," is that referring to an "inn" like we know it today? Did they even have hotels or motels in the early Jewish culture and if not, what would the word "inn" mean to them? Hmmm...) A Bible handbook is where Bible scholars and history buffs collide.
Bible Atlases and Time Lines
Since the books of the Bible are not necessarily ordered chronologically, it can often be difficult to see the broad scope of Biblical history. A Bible timeline can connect all the dots. As a homeschool mom, I can use a Bible time line to show my children what was happening to God's people during significant events around the rest of the world. While we often separate Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman history, they all overlapped each other AND the life-and-times of the children of Israel. An atlas and a time line can help show the complete picture.
- Deluxe Then & Now Bible Map Book- Provides clear plastic overlays to show the geographical changes of modern day compared with Biblical times.
Got any favorite Bible study resources that I've missed? Leave them in the comments for other mommas to enjoy.
And be sure to join me for the rest of the Bible Study Tips & Tools for a Busy Momma Series.