One other great piece of advice for reading and understanding the Bible came from my friend, Bruce Hansen. Bruce ministered with InterVarsity for many years and had loads of experience leading group Bible studies with college students. He suggested copying and pasting whole biblical books (Habbakuk, Mark, Philippians, etc.) into Word documents, making copies, and reading them together as groups.
I’ve done this many times and have found it to be one of the richest ways of reading and studying Scripture. I go to Biblegateway, capture a biblical text in the NIV or NASB, and paste it into a Word document. Then I can format it however I like. I remove the headings inserted by translators and format the text so that it is continuous, without paragraphs. This is more organic to how NT texts, at least, would have originally appeared.
If I’m studying with a group, I make copies, distribute them, and we read the text together. We can read it out loud, make observations, and feel free to mark up the text.
This is also how I study biblical texts on my own. I copy, paste, and arrange a biblical text in Greek or Hebrew from various sources into a document, print it out, and then mark it up however I like.
I’ve found this way of reading biblical texts helpful because interpretation isn’t straight-jacketed by how texts appear in our Bibles. Quite often textual units don’t conform to chapter divisions, so making one continuous text removes that limitation to understanding. Further, I feel the freedom to mark up my text as much as I like, using highlighters and different colored pens and pencils.
Finally, it allows for fruitful group study in that I can copy and distribute a common translation and we can read aloud and closely observe a biblical text together. Those experiences are some of the best I’ve had studying the Bible because we can point things out to each other and discover together what a text is saying. Oftentimes the greatest barrier to close Bible reading is simply the failure to observe what lies plainly on the surface of the text. Reading Scripture as a group sometimes helps us get beyond seeing only what we’re “supposed to see” in a text.
It’s a pretty simple suggestion, really, but I’ve found that it’s some of the best Bible study advice.