3 Reasons Not to Study the Bible on Your Own
You live in an individualist society. No wonder you are eager to claim a growing list of things you can do “on our own”! You like being independent. You may even like being told, “You can do this!” and, “You don’t need anyone else!” I see millions of fists pumping into the air yelling “Yeah, that’s right!”
But is that really how God created you? Did He make you to not need anybody? Is He calling you to independence, to doing things on your own, to declare your self-sufficiency? I don’t think so.
To be honest, it reminds me a little bit of my children. It begins in the toddler years: Kids love doing things without assistance. “Let me try!” “I can do it all by myself!” Of course, moms and dads are usually rejoicing. Their kids are learning a new skill, they are showing eagerness to learn, and they are growing in their confidence.
Does that sound like something you hear from me? I sure hope so. I love seeing you learn a new Bible study skill. I love seeing you eager for God’s Word. I love seeing your Scripture confidence grow. None of these are bad.
To be honest, though, there is another great lesson we try to teach our kids: Sometimes you need help.
We had a pair of toddler shoes with shoelaces. I can’t even remember buying them so we may have received them as a gift. Guess what: they fit = they are getting worn. My daughter was 20 months old and she just couldn’t tie those laces. She could slip the shoes on, but she needed help. She just didn’t have the fine motor skills yet. But she had just started her “all by myself” stage and help was hard to accept. What an opportunity for a life lesson: Sometimes we need help. So instead of declaring, “I can do it all by myself” how about, “I can do it with some help.”
Accepting help is hard for us adults, too, isn’t it?! You are used to doing so many things on your own, and you may even be a little proud of it. It’s even easier sometimes. When you do things by yourself, you are not dependent on somebody else’s progress or involvement. You may even be less nervous about being let down. You can go about your day without depending on others; you are much more flexible that way.
It’s like that in Bible study, too, you know. If you study the Bible by yourself, you can study whatever you feel like. You can stay on one verse all day. Nobody is depending on you to keep up with a reading schedule. Nobody is waiting for you to respond to a discussion question. Nobody is setting the pace but you.
I see why it’s tempting to study on your own. It fits better into our individualistic lifestyle. I’ll be honest: I often do it. But I think I miss out - and so do you.
The “I can do it all by myself” rule of thumb doesn’t work for Bible study. It’s just not the way to go. As much as we may desire independence, in our study of the Scripture, let’s be God-dependent and inter-dependent.
Am I saying, you shouldn’t attempt to read and understand the Bible in your personal quiet time at home? If you know me or have spent any time on my site, you know that of course, that’s not what I am saying.
Cults will sometimes go by that rule. They discourage or even forbid their members to read literature that’s not specifically from their faith community. They don’t want their people to think critically about the text or question anything they are taught because they don’t want them to see the Light. They want them to remain in darkness. That’s incredibly sad, and it should be a red flag.
If you are part of a faith community that is this restrictive, please take note. Why are your leaders so fearful of you reading anything that’s not theirs? Why are they discouraging you from taking ownership of your time in the Bible? Why aren’t they teaching you how to study the Scriptures? The Bible doesn’t support this type of leadership. It encourages us to check Scripture to detect false teachers and listen to messengers of God (Acts 17:10-15).
You know my heart on the subject: You can learn how to study the Bible well. You can use Scripture to discern truth from lies. You can allow God’s Word to speak into your life.
But there are reasons not to go it alone.
1. You need the Holy Spirit.
God is not calling us to be independent but God-dependent. We are fallen human beings with finite minds. We are prone to misunderstand and misinterpret. In fact, 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Why is that? Because the Holy Spirit indwells all believers and grants understanding of spiritual truths.
Much of the Bible doesn’t even make sense to unbelievers. It may even seem to contradict itself. Have you seen comic strips designed and shared by unbelievers proclaiming, “The Bible is all about “not judging”, so how can believers declare that God wants us to live by certain standards?” Well, to be honest, I wonder if many of those, who subscribe to this belief, have actually read the Bible. But the truth is, they may have but come away not understanding it.
It’s the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to understand God’s Word. He will point us to truth, remind us of related passages we have read or even memorized, and connect the dots for us. The Holy Spirit also uses Scripture to convict us of sin and of changes we need to make. He needs to be a part of your Bible study from building a habit to making observations, to applying His Word.
Now, I know you haven’t ever opened the Bible declaring, “I don’t need you, Holy Spirit. I can do it all by myself.” Rather, it’s something you may neglect to remember. You may approach Scripture with the mindset that you have to tackle it, that your knowledge is all you need - either sufficient or insufficient to complete the task. When you study Scripture, do you remember that the Holy Spirit is your primary teacher?
This should be an encouragement to you. You are not on your own. Your skill level alone does not determine your success. You have the One true, holy God as your personal tutor. It can’t get better than that!
Praise God! Bible study is not something believers do “on their own” but rather with the help of the Holy Spirit.
2. We can learn from fellow believers who are scholars.
Can you open the Bible with just you and God, read, study, and walk away enriched and edified? Yes! You don’t need outside sources. Basic Bible study methods include making observations, interpretations, and applications. With a few skills, you can spend well-rounded time in God’s Word. You don’t need much else to study the Bible.
If you haven’t yet learned any such skills but are eager, check out my FREE pdf offer “10 Steps to Approaching the Bible with Confidence.” It’s a step by step guide to studying the Bible well - for new believers and seasoned readers. Get your copy. It’s FREE.
If you’ve already taken a sneak peek or a look around this site, you know that I advocate for learning how to use outside sources. What do I mean by that? Sources like Bible dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries. They can add another dimension to your study.
Here is the truth: Bible scholars are fellow believers, fallen and finite in nature, who have become experts on the Bible or a portion of it. They’ve spent many years studying their area of expertise. They know their stuff. But they are also not perfect. Don’t look at them as super-Christians who have a more privileged access to God’s Word than you do. They don’t.
They have some knowledge that they’ve decided to share with you, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of it? Their role in God’s kingdom is to provide you with historical background information, show you different ways of interpreting a controversial passage, and generally help you more accurately study the Bible. Let’s learn from them.
Just like you may consult a manual… okay, never mind; nobody does that anymore… Just like you may google a topic or search Pinterest for a DIY project, consult outside sources to better understand the Bible.
3. Studying Scripture in community is so much richer.
God created you to live in community. He calls believers to love one another (John 13:34-35), bear with one another (Colossians 3:13), and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). In Acts, we see the early church living life with each other, going to the temple courts together, and studying God’s Word to test the apostle’s teaching. You can feel the community atmosphere jumping off the pages.
That should be our desire as well: To live in community with one another, care for one another, and… study the Bible with one another.
Here is my challenge to you (and myself actually): There are many things you can do on your own, but that doesn’t mean you should. What about allowing another person to be a part of your day to day, celebrating community rather than individualism?!
In Bible study, that may mean joining a formal small group or Bible study group at your church. It could also mean that you and a friend (or few) decide to study a certain passage of Scripture together and talk about it online or in person.
Do you prefer being a part of a group that meets weekly in a consistent location and studies through a Bible study guide, book of the Bible, or Christian living book? Do you enjoy getting a little “homework”, a few passages to study during the week “on your own”, then to get a chance to discuss your findings with the group? That’s how most traditional Bible study groups work.
A newer trend are online Bible studies. They offer accountability, community that revolves around the study of God’s Word, and the flexibility you need. It’s a good balance of studying “on your own” - for practicality’s sake, you are bound to study alone at home alone - and discussing the passage with others when you get a chance.
Friends can build an online study group together or strangers can join one through a ministry. For tips on how to set up a study group, check out my Study Group 101 tips.
Proverbs 31 Ministries has an Online Bible Study ministry. They may be the most well-known. An alternative I also like is Love God Greatly. Both engage participants with a book or study guide, blog posts and videos, and guided Facebook groups. I hope to, one day, offer a similar program.
The “Scripture Confident Through the Bible” series is built for this type of flexible Bible study community: a group of friends who desire to study the Bible together. It allows you and your friends to learn how to study the Bible, while practicing on hand-picked passages that will give you an overview of the Bible’s storyline. The “Scripture Confident through the Old Testament” series is available now.
Whatever you decide to study, I hope you will challenge yourself to include a friend. If you are not ready to join a group, why not start there: Ask one friend to be your study buddy. Choose a book of the Bible to study together or pick a study guide. Decide your study pace together, how often and how you will interact with the text with one another, and get reading.
If the thought of “studying” is still a little scary, pick a reading plan from the youversion app. It’s a FREE app with FREE reading plans. Many Bible versions will give you a choice to either read or listen to the passage of the day. Nothing could be more flexible. Commit to reading/ listening to the passage of one of their reading plans, then quickly text each other a one or two sentence response to what stood out to you, what you learned, or how the Holy Spirit is using this message in your life.
That’s a great basic place to start. I hope you wander on soon towards a Bible study approach. How can I help? As always, don’t be shy to let me know what resources would be helpful and what encouragement your heart needs.
Don’t go it alone; study the Bible in community.