A Christian Lady’s Toolbox for Studying the Word

I’ve written a lot about what women shouldn’t believe. But as someone pointed out to me the other day, what we women really need is to believe the right things–to have a firm grasp on solid theology. That way, when we hear wonky false teachings, we’ll recognize them. It’s true that the best way to spot a counterfeit is to study the real thing, through and through.

In this case, the “real thing” is the Word of God, of course. But it’s not that easy. We can’t expect to just pick up the Bible, read it like any other book, and have an in-depth knowledge of it poured into our heads. It takes work.

Kind of like a gardener, trying to plant a flower bed. I’ve never done that myself, but I imagine it’s not as simple as throwing some seeds into dirt. It takes preparation, effort, and daily care to maintain. That is, if you want it to be beautiful and thriving.

Reading… studying… knowing the Word is different from any other book we might pore over. Why?

  • It’s inspired by God and perfect–they are His Words. Treat with reverence.
  • It’s living and active–it actually transforms us through the Spirit. It renews our minds. If we’re not changed by it, something is wrong.
  • It reveals Christ and His glory to us on every page.
  • It is endlessly deep. We can never say we’ve fully explored or grasped it.
  • It constantly provides us with nourishment. We live by every word from the mouth of the Lord.
  • It is complex. The essentials are simple enough that anyone can understand them, but to truly dig in and find the treasures in each book requires more study, prayer, and guidance.
  • It contains, not just “advice” or “nice stories,” but vital instruction for salvation and pleasing God.

And there are more things I could add, but you get the idea!

So we know that we need God’s Word; it is not to be trifled with; and we’re utterly insufficient on our own to profit from it. The Spirit illuminates the Word to our dull minds.  He is ultimately our teacher.

But there are some ways we can equip ourselves and find proper guidance as we study the Bible. I want to briefly give you some helps that have aided me in my journey to know God and His Word better.

1. Get your presuppositions and principles straight.

If we come to the Bible thinking, “Let me see if the things in here are true,” we’re in for trouble. We are not the judge of the truthfulness of Scripture, nor the righteousness of God. The Word will not profit us if our standard for what’s right is our own heads and hearts. Humility is required, to recognize that we are sinful, poor-in-spirit people who need to learn from the Lord, and often (usually!) require correction of our own thoughts and opinions.

Our presupposition (or assumed stance) should be: God is always right, His Word is true; if I don’t like it, I’m the problem. I need to change. 

Having the right principles for studying the Word are equally important. Here are a few:

  • Come to the Word humbly, by faith, and with the desire to know God and experience His presence. Come as a repentant Christian. If you come as a scientist, researcher, curious bystander–you will be disappointed.
  • Study the Word as a whole–many books encompassing one Book. Scripture interpreting Scripture. Don’t isolate verses or passages out of context.
  • Don’t pick and choose what to believe or not believe. All of it is true.
  • There are no contradictions in the Bible, because God cannot contradict Himself. (This goes back to our presupposition.)
  • The Bible is not magic. It is not up to being molded by our own feelings or “senses.”
  • The Word should be studied as a historical text, inspired by God but through the writings of various authors. Therefore, we need to focus on the natural meaning of the passage, taking into consideration the language and context used, and not stray into wild interpretations that aren’t there.
  • There is continuity between the Old and New Testaments, through God’s overarching covenant with His people. The Old has not expired or become useless; it is every bit as necessary for us as the NT. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16)
  • We must pay attention to different uses of language and genre. Sometimes a passage is a narrative; other times, poetry; sometimes it is literal (i.e. taken at face value) and other times it is symbolic (representative of a deeper, non-literal idea or entity). These will affect how we interpret the Word.

I could go on. But those principles are a good starting point. For more detail, check out this article from Monergism.

2. Join a biblically-sound church, submit yourself to the elders, and learn from the regular preaching of the Word.

If all we’re doing is sitting at home with our Bibles, in utter isolation and not attending a church, we are in sin. The Word of God tells us not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). It is not only a duty, but a privilege to be part of a godly, Bible-believing church and put ourselves under the oversight of a qualified pastor. We are sheep, after all! We need the flock; we need shepherds.

Maybe your pastor isn’t the best teacher in the world. Maybe you aren’t “fed” to your liking every week. (If so, pray for him!) But we are still called to be in the church, doing our best to benefit from the sacraments and means of grace, and to serve one another. There are some situations where you might need to switch to a different church, which I won’t go into here. But we are meant to receive weekly nourishment from the preaching and hearing of the Word.

3. Worship daily.

O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. -Ps. 63:1

Spend time with the Lord each day, seeking His face through reading, praying, and singing the psalms. We don’t read the Bible just to gain head knowledge, but to experience God and hear His Words to us. It is our daily bread, and if we forsake it, we will end up emaciated.

If your husband is a believer, try to commit to worshipping together as a family, with him leading you in the Word and worship. It is a wonderful blessing to pursue the Lord together.

4. Fellowship with other like-minded believers.

Outside of the official gathering, we should still have times of fellowship and growth with other Christians–whether it be through Bible studies or just Christ-centered conversations. Rather than focusing on earthly things and letting them dominate our dialogues, we should turn the topic over to spiritual realities and help one another grow in theology and the love of God. This includes abstract biblical ideas, and more practical guidance from the Word. We should foster a love for Jesus in one another, by encouraging what is good and confronting or confessing sin. In these ways, we lay down our lives for each other.

Sisters in particular: the Word tells us that the young women should learn from the older women (Titus 2:3-5). Depending on which category we fit in, we should be following this pattern. What a blessing it is to both gain and share wisdom with one another!

5. Take advantage of the study tools available.

As Christians of the 21st century, we have more technology and resources for accessing study tools than ever before. Here are a few I use regularly and highly recommend.

A good Bible

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s so essential to make sure that the version of the Bible we are reading is not a loose version or a paraphrase of Scripture, which strays far from the original text. Obviously the Message and the New Living Translation should be avoided, but do your research. No translation is perfect, but I use the KJV (or NKJV) usually, because I find it most reliable to tell me the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew. (No worries, I’m definitely not a “KJV onlyist.”) Look into it for yourself and see what you find.

Besides the translation, try to get a copy of the Bible that contains cross references, maps, and other basic tools. I’ll talk about study Bibles in a bit, but even regular Bibles (like this one that is excellent) should contain some kind of help.

Journal

Consider investing in a journal or notebook, where you can write down your thoughts and applications of Scripture. I often read a chapter of the Word, summarize it, and then copy down 2-4 major ways I must act based on what I’ve been taught. A journal helps me study the Word in a personal way, and keep track of how I’m growing in specific situations or particular struggles.

Creeds and confessions

We are blessed to live in an age when the Church has been around for centuries and has had considerable time to sort through complexing theological issues. It must have been much more difficult for the early believers who had just received the New Testament!

The writings of the great Christian minds of the past can help us determine what fits under “orthodoxy”–truths that the vast majority of the true church has held to, because they are the clear teaching of Scripture–and what is heresy, or false teachings. This is what creeds and confessions are for.

They are not infallible documents, but they summarize the teachings of Scripture, using Scripture. I personally read and study the Westminster Confession of Faith, but there are others, like the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. They prevent us from being “tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). They help unify the body of Christ on the essentials of the faith, and keep out the wolves who would mislead the flock. (Check out this podcast episode on why confessions are important.)

Study Bibles and commentaries

What’s not to love about study Bibles? They contain historical information, cross-references, notes explaining the text, concordances, glossaries, and more. I think it’s vital to have access to a good study Bible or at least online resources. Just be sure to do your research and not pick any one at random!

The one I recommend in particular is the Reformation Heritage Study Bible–after every chapter (every chapter!) there are extremely helpful notes for Family and Personal Worship, which focus in on what the chapter has to say about our relationship with God and Christ, and how to apply the text to our lives.

Can’t afford a copy right now? Bible Gateway has free resources as well, including Matthew Henry’s commentary. He was a solid Reformed, Puritan theologian who interprets the Scripture by the Scripture, and faithfully provides very thorough explanations of even the hardest texts. I use his commentary frequently. Also available at various places online are John Calvin’s and John Brown Haddington’s commentaries, which I also recommend.

Extrabiblical texts, blogs, sermons, etc.

We have a plethora of Christian works today to choose from, so let’s choose wisely. As you’ve seen from my reviews, many of the popular women’s “Christian” books are not worth reading, but that doesn’t mean all modern books are bad. Yet I find myself preferring the works of the Puritans and Reformers–authors such as John Owen, Thomas Watson, and Thomas Goodwin, who wrote extensively on the Christian life of holiness.

This section could take up a whole separate post, and I’ll likely piece together a list of specific titles in the near future. Be wise in your selections, realizing that extrabiblical books and blogs must meet the rigorous test of Scripture’s truth. But they do have a place in our sanctification and growth.

6. Keep seeking Christ in His Word–no matter what!

Through every trial and difficulty at grasping the Word, we persevere, knowing that God will guide us and teach us. He who had the power to regenerate our souls and change our hearts to believe in Him, will surely not find our stubborn, ignorant minds too much of a challenge! And He deeply desires this for us–to grow and transform, experiencing His presence and seeing by faith the face of Christ. Be patient and remain faithful, and over time you will see the fruit of your labors and the work of the Spirit in you.

Here are some more links to resources I personally use regularly:

The 1650 Split Leaf Psalter app

John Calvin Commentary app

Bible Hub: Online Study Resources

Reformed sermons at ReformedVoice

Sermons by Pastor Kenneth Stewart, of Glasgow RP Church of Scotland

Reformed Presbyterian articles

Michelle Lesley’s articles and resources on false teachers

Reformation Heritage Books

 

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