I find maintenance reading to be important in keeping the Word of God—all of it—in my head. But I also find that it’s not enough. I need to study the Bible—to settle in, dig deep, find out what it means, and merge it with my thinking in a more substantial way than reading a passage once a year can do.
So I devote a section of my daily devotions to digging deeper. It’s the longest section of my devotional practice, and even then I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve tried to make it more productive by making it a daily progression, building each day on a process that takes several weeks.
There’s something to be said for topical studies, including word studies; I’ve done a lot of those over the years. But typically my study time is spent trying to get my head around an entire biblical book. The length of time I spend in it will depend on the length of the book. One year I spent a month each on the twelve shortest books of the Bible. Right now I’m in the middle of two months on 2 Timothy. Here’s how I’m spending those two months:
- Day 1: Read & outline
- 2: Identify and highlight key words (I use Logos’s “Important Words Guide”)
- 3: Compare English versions to identify substantive differences (Logos “Text Comparison” tool enables me to do this quickly, but any parallel Bible will provide this information)
- 4-5: Identify textual variants (the easiest way to find the substantive ones in English is here)
- 6-43: Read commentaries and note key background and interpretive details (I have a lot of commentaries—about 50 that include 2 Timothy)
- 44-49: Diagram the book on biblearc.com to comprehend its structure and flow of argument (here’s my diagram of 2 Peter)
- 50-51: Note and evaluate instances of intertextuality (the book’s references to other biblical or extrabiblical writings—Logos’s “NT Use of the OT” tool is very helpful for this, but both NASB and CSB emphasize the NT citations of the OT typographically [NASB with ALL CAPS, and CSB with boldfaced type])
- 52: Write a thesis statement for the book, reflecting the key themes in the wording, and the organization in the sentence structure
- 53-56: Go through the file of notes I’ve been compiling, cleaning up the format and readability
I keep each month’s schedule to 28 days so it will work in February; the extra days in other months give me time to catch up or pursue things I’ve discovered that aren’t already given time in the schedule.
When I’m done, I have my own commentary on the book, with key features color-coded in highlighting. And the weeks immersed in the book reinforce its content in my mind in ways I wouldn’t be able to get from a century of annual readings.
This study takes about 25 or 30 minutes per day. The Logos tools I’ve mentioned—particularly the interlinear mode of the Text Comparison Tool—make some of it noticeably more efficient, and the time I save I invest in commentary study.
As to commentaries, let me make some recommendations—
- The best source, by far, for evaluating biblical commentaries is bestcommentaries.com. The site has a ranked list of commentaries for each biblical book (e.g. John). The rightmost column in the list identifies the type of commentary with various tags. I would recommend avoiding the “devotional” commentaries, because they often don’t answer the questions you have when you’re trying to understand a passage. If you have some training in biblical languages, the “technical” commentaries are quite valuable; if not, the “pastoral” commentaries are probably the best investment for you.
- I am quite fond of both the New American Commentary series and the Pillar NT Commentary series—they’re thorough and specific, and most of what they say is accessible to someone of average intelligence and without seminary training—if you’re willing to study. 🙂
- Electronic is better than hard copy. It takes up no space and weighs nothing—and you’ll really appreciate that every time you move. Further, it’s electronically searchable, which makes it far more useful than hard copy. You can highlight it just like a book—and even better, you can change the highlight later if you want to. And finally, it’s often less expensive than the hard copy, both in manufacturing and in shipping.
6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Dt 6.6-9).