Differences Between Reading and Studying the Bible

Welcome to the series on Bible Study. Read the first post here.

Studying the Bible

In my mind, there is a difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible. When I say reading the Bible, I mean doing your devotions. Studying the Bible, then, means just that. Actually purposefully studying a book of the Bible.

Now I believe these both are important parts of our faith journey. 

Every day in my devotions, I read a few chapters of the Bible. I follow the One Year Bible plan, which has a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, a Psalm and a verse or two from Proverbs. This plan works for me and I have read through the Bible with this plan for at least five years now. Last year I actually tried a different plan but I prefer this one over others.

This, however, doesn’t mean that I study through the whole Bible every year. No, no. Honestly, even the thought of that sounds exhausting with everything else there is going on in my life. To be honest, I’m not even studying a book of the Bible all the time. I usually study through a book once or twice a year.

So let’s look into the differences between reading the Bible and studying the Bible.

Reading the Bible

Can you gain something from just reading the Bible then? I would say, yes. I believe you always gain from reading the Bible. First of all, I think it’s important to have the habit of being in the Word daily. And yes, I really mean daily. Every single day, read the Bible.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether you read a verse, a passage, a chapter or a book every day. What matters is that you do read the Bible every day. That’s because that is how you get to know God and build a relationship with Him as He reveals Himself to you in His Word.

It’s also easy to fall into the habit of going into the Word only when you are looking for answers. I think you know what I’m talking about. We find ourselves in a trial or facing a decision. We know we should do things the way God wants us to do it. So we randomly open the Bible and start reading it, hoping some verse will speak to us.

I have found that as I follow a plan, God will use what seem to me like random passages to speak into the situation and to my heart. There I’m not trying to manipulate the Word to fit my situation. And that’s only because I’m in the habit of reading the Bible every day, and not just when things are hard.

So I recommend finding a good reading plan, preferably one that takes you through the whole Bible in a year. We’ll come back to this point later.

Studying the Bible

So what does studying the Bible mean then? It means that you look into the history and the culture of the book. It means that you study the purpose and meaning of the book, and how it lines up with the rest of the Bible. I find that Bible Study is built on layers. To understand a book, you need start peeling those layers. The information you glean from each step gives you more insight into the text — and God. 

First you look into the background of the book and of the author. Why was this book written? Who was it written to? Also what was happening when the book was written? After that, you start looking into the theme of the book. Which words are repeated in the book? What seems to be the main point or points in the book? Does it connect with any other book of the Bible?

Once you start studying the book verse by verse, you look into the language and especially the original language. Again, which words are repeated in the book? Are they used in some other books of the Bible? What are the words used in the original language and what do they mean? What are the tenses and forms of the words used? Are there commands?

So once you have looked into all of these points, you start comparing it all to the image you have of God. Because that is the reason why we study the Bible: to learn more about God and to learn more about our identity in God. In addition, as we learn more about God and understand a book of the Bible better, we are better equipped for trials and hardships. We are better equipped for evangelism and witnessing. We are better equipped for ministry.

Discover the whole Bible

Can I ask you a question, friend? Have you read through the whole Bible? Like from cover to cover?

If you haven’t, I honestly recommend and encourage you to do it starting from today. I find it quite incredible that there are some believers who have been believers for years, yet there are some books of the Bible they have never read. If you believe, like I believe, that the Bible is the Word of God — why haven’t you read it all?

Like I mentioned, it’s good to be in the Word daily. That way we connect with God on a daily basis. Also that way God can speak to us. But there is a benefit to our Bible study time as well.

I honestly think it’s hard to study any book of the Bible in a throughout way if you haven’t ever read through the whole Bible. One of my favorite things when studying through a book is seeing how it connects with another books of the Bible. I remember after taking the Romans class in Bible College, I had so much more insight into the Gospel of John afterwards. I understood so much more of the culture after reading Romans, which then helped me to understand the book of John a lot better.

But it’s also harder to understand the character of God if you haven’t read through the whole Bible. Mainly because I think in each book, we learn specific things about God. Though some books are harder to understand (at least for me), they all hold something special about God. And I would be missing out on that if I didn’t read all of the Bible.

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    1. Becky, it really is so important for us to be in the Word but I think there’s spiritual warfare there too. And because we know we’re supposed to be reading the Bible, it can be hard to admit our struggle. But I think it helps when we realize we all struggle at times!

  1. One practice that has been very helpful for me is to read through the Bible every year in order to stay familiar with the big picture and then to be doing a more detailed and slow slog through smaller chunks. For instance, it took me almost a year to get through Jeremiah, but I was using a book by Eugene Peterson as my guide, so I gained a lot of insight in the process.

    1. It is important to understand the difference between reading and studying the Bible. It is distinction that’s missed by many. Thanks for encouraging us to do both!

      1. I think it helps to distinguish the difference between those two as it helps us with how we approach the Word as well! Thanks for visiting here and God bless!

    2. Michele, I do just the same! It really is important to keep read in the Word and I think it’s good to read through the whole Bible every year to star familiar with the big picture, like you said. That way we can connect what we are learning with everything in the Bible.

  2. Like how you said to study the Bible is peeling back the layers. To research the background of each book, helps with the context and why it was written. Great points!

  3. Such practical advice….both reading and studying are so important – essential – to us as Christians. It seems we are often drawn to one or the other…..loving to read but not much in-depth studying or passionate about study but lazier with daily reading. Especially cover to cover. Thanks for the encouragement. I need to be a better studier!

    1. I think it is important to see and understand the difference between these two and then make sure we do both, as they are both so vital for our growth. Thanks for visiting here, Jennifer!

  4. Ronja, I wholeheartedly agree with you on both points. I do believe we should read all of God’s Word on a regular basis and, like you, I favor a one-year plan. It doesn’t take that long each day to read through it in a systematic way. The whole Bible could be read out-loud in about 72 hours. The hardest part is making the commitment and forming the habit. I also believe we should take the time to dig deeper into God’s Word regularly. Thanks for your encouragement in this area. I’m pinning and sharing.

    1. You are so right, Donna — the hardest part is the commitment and forming the habit. That’s why I love making a routine out of Bible reading so it happens easily for me every morning. For me the reading takes about 20 minutes on work days, so it really doesn’t take that long. I spend more time on reading the Word during weekends.

  5. I read through the Bible in a different version every two years. It takes me 2 years (sometimes 3) to get through instead of 1 year. 🙂 But I need to go even slower when I’m studying, like you say here, Ronja. Thanks for differentiating between reading and studying.

    1. Lisa, I think reading through the Bible in two years is just as good! It’s good to take it a bit slower, to make sure you are really reading it. And still reading through the Bible in 2 or 3 years means that you are reading it all and keeping the big picture in mind.

  6. Hi Ronja,its a pleasure meeting you and finding your link party.Thank you for encouraging me to and readstudy the word.