Back in 2011 (hard to believe it’s that long ago) I posted a short list of what I called “Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study.” It was a popular post, perhaps because it was prompted by questions I get all the time related to how to study the Bible. I’ve been working on another writing project over the past year (aimed at the “average person in the pew” again) that sprang from that post. I’ll be posting a few things from it through the remainder of the year. This is the first. Let me know if you think it hits the target audience or not.

Bible Reading is not Bible Study

You should read your Bible. That’s axiomatic for Christians, but I’d dispense that piece of advice to anyone. That said, reading the Bible is not where our engagement with the Bible ends. It’s where it begins. You eventually need to go beyond reading the Bible to serious study of the Bible. The first step is to realize there’s a significant difference between reading and studying.

Reading is casual, something done for pleasure. The motivation is personal gratification or enrichment, not mastery of the content. Bible reading has as its aim private delight or personal application for our lives and relationship with God. Bible reading is inherently devotional and low maintenance.

Bible study, on the other hand, involves concentration and exertion. We have an intuitive sense that study requires some sort of method or technique, and probably certain types of tools or aids. When we study the Bible we’re asking questions, thinking about context, forming judgments, and looking for more information.

It’s not hard to illustrate the difference. Practically anyone could manage to make a cup of coffee, but they’re not baristas. We know instinctively that both perform the same basic task, but what distinguishes the barista is a lot of time, effort, research, and experience in learned technique. It’s the same with Bible study.

Let’s try another coffee illustration. Let’s say you and your friend were from the moon and didn’t know what coffee was. You’re only mildly interested in the topic, so you decide to look it up in a dictionary. You read that coffee is “a popular beverage made from the roasted and pulverized seeds of a coffee plant.” Good enough. You learned something. But your friend wants to know more—a lot more.  How is coffee made? What’s the process? Is there more than one process? If so, why would there be different processes? Is there more than one kind of coffee bean? Where are the beans grown? Does that make any difference in color, aroma, or flavor? Is climate a consideration? How is coffee different than tea? If it’s a popular beverage, how much is consumed? Does consumption vary by country? State? Gender? Age? IQ?

Whoa. Your friend is way over the top. And we know why. Her interest, intensity, and willingness to expend effort tell us that her aim is studying, not just reading. Big difference—one that translates well to what we ought to do with the Bible.