Get Started in Personal Bible Study

Want to start reading or studying the Bible personally? Don’t know where to begin? Here’s how to get started.

1. Select a good bible translation. Your preferences will affect which translation will resonate with you. That said, these are the translations I recommend you consider for personal reading and study: New International Version (NIV), New Revised Standard (NRSV), Common English Bible (CEB), English Standard Version (ESV). These are the ones I recommend if you are prioritizing readability: The Message, New Living Translation (NLT). If you already have a Bible at home, unless it is the King James Version (KJV – no offense to a literary classic), plan on starting with what you’ve got. BibleGateway.com or YouVersion.com are great websites with lots of translations available to access online.

2. Get a reading plan. This helps address the “Where do I start?” issue. Check out a variety of free downloadable Bible Reading Plans from Zondervan Publishing. For a great place to begin, I recommend the “Two Week Guided Tour” (pdf) that has several great 2-week plans to get you started. I make constant use of reading plans from YouVersion’s Bible app. Even if I’m doing my reading in a Bible on paper or on my Kindle, I still select a plan and track my progress with the Bible app.

3. Get study support resources, as desired. I encourage you to spend most of your time reading/studying the Bible itself. Support resources are intended to help you with the main thing. That said, we do need help reading and understanding the Bible faithfully. So, I recommend one of the following three options, in order of my preference. I prefer and encourage studying a Bible that is just the biblical text, then using other resources separately. But you may find that for convenience, a Study Bible of some sort will serve you well. Decide what matches your needs and interests.

  • Get The Essential Bible Companion: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word. It provides a two-page introduction to every book of the Bible, including maps, charts, key passages, important characters, and key theological concepts. It is an excellent resource.
  • Get a One-Volume Bible Commentary. If you’ve already got a Bible in a translation you like, and you don’t need to have the commentary notes with you everywhere you take your Bible, then I recommend a one-volume commentary that you can keep in your favorite place for reading/study at home. A couple of fine standards are the IVP New Bible Commentary and the HarperCollins Bible Commentary. They provide an introduction to each book of the bible and passage-by-passage commentary. And they’re not too different in price from a Study Bible. 
  • Get a Study Bible. If you’re really looking for notes on every page for almost every verse in the bible, then a Study Bible is probably for you. I recommend, for adults, the NIV Study Bible, the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, the NIV Life Application Study Bible, or the Wesley Study Bible (available in NRSV or CEB).
4. Get a Method. Okay, those are my recommendations on what you’ll need to get started. But what to do once you’ve collected the essential resources and you’re ready to begin?
  • First, use your reading plan. I encourage you to value both reading larger parts of the Bible (several chapters in one sitting, for example) in order to hear the big story and reading smaller parts of the Bible (a few verses, for example) in order to hear the finer points.
  • Second, here’s a link to a friend’s instructions for a way to grow through personal study of the Bible from his church website: The “S.O.A.P.” method. It’s not the only way, but it’s one way. And you can adapt it, or discover others that may work well for you also.
A Prayer for Personal Bible Study  
  • “Gracious and Holy God, write your Word on my heart, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that I may grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Make me a doer of your Word and not a hearer only. Amen.” (based on Jeremiah 31:33, Psalm 119, 2 Peter 3:18, James 1:22)