The bottom line is that we must just start reading it. It is a long book with lots of truths to learn, so it will take a lot of time and energy. But it will be an effort well worth the time. In fact, it is a lifelong endeavor, so we just need to be humble, patient, and faithful, allowing God to teach us His truths over time.
Questions will come up as different passages and themes are encountered. The best thing to do is to make notes about the confusing parts and to ask another Christian about them. I recommend the MacArthur Study Bible (see recommended reading) because of the vast amount of helpful notes it has. (My commentary will be helpful as well as it gets completed.)
Later, studying the Bible by keyword, topic, or theme will be helpful, but the most important thing is always to continue to read through the Bible verse by verse and chapter by chapter. It is easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we know the Bible when we do not really know it all that well. We must keep reading it through and through. The difficult passages have answers, and we must go to other Bible-believing Christians to help us learn the answers. Yet even their answers must always be cross-examined through the grid of the Bible.
Bible study is not a casual thing like doing the daily jumble or crossword puzzle. It requires thought, study, meditation, prayer, and patience. Some passages will immediately stand out and have obvious applications. Others will take some digging. The best advice I can give is to just keep digging. I want to be digging until I am physically unable to dig any longer. This is how a person must approach the text.
Here are ten principles to guide how we approach the Bible so that we don’t get discouraged or led astray:
First, we must understand that we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give us insight into the text. The text must be read with “spiritual eyes” along with the intellect and not merely with the intellect. Thus, we must pray to God to give us wisdom before we approach His Word with clean hearts and humble minds.
Second, we must be patient in reading the Scripture. Studying is work. It is not merely browsing or skim reading. It must be meditated upon, thoroughly chewed and digested, and weighed over time.
Third, we must learn when the Scripture is speaking in literal terms and when it is speaking in symbolic terms. The rule of thumb is to assume a literal interpretation. When the Scripture starts speaking prophetically (i.e. talking about future events), it incorporates a lot of symbols. However, nearly every symbolic account (which itself is a literal transcription of what a prophet saw or heard) is followed by an explanation of the symbols. It is important not to make any assumption that the Bible is full of allegory and myth. We can take it literally, historically, and paying attention to all of the grammar. God doesn’t make mistakes, even down to the smallest details.
Fourth, we must always interpret Scripture with Scripture so that we don’t come up with an incorrect interpretation of Scripture. This is where word studies and looking up original languages is important (try the interlinear Bible at studylight.org for a user-friendly way to get a glimpse at the words in the original languages and their meanings). Scripture is remarkably consistent with terms, themes, and symbols from beginning to end.
Fifth, we must accept that Scripture has an intended meaning, even if that meaning includes several layers. For example, some prophecies were for the immediate time frame, but they also can be applied to our present time frame. Scripture has one intended interpretation with multiple applications. Specific applications can vary from individual to individual, but there is always an intended meaning and truth presented in a specific text.
Sixth, we must try to learn from others who have journeyed through the Scriptures before us. This is why God has ordained preaching, fellowship, and teaching. We need others to teach us; otherwise why would he gift some with the gift of teaching and preaching?
Seventh, we must remember that the Scripture is the final authority, superseding traditions and our favorite pastors and authors. If somebody says anything that contradicts Scripture, Scripture is right, and they are wrong. This is why it is important to always give Scripture references when making Biblical claims and assertions.
Eighth, the Scripture is like food. We need daily meals so our body has its needed energy. Spiritually, we need our spiritual food which is the Word of God. We must read it and think upon it regularly, just like eating physical food.
Ninth, Scripture is to be obeyed, not just believed. The New Testament contains a lot of principles and commands for how we ought to live and order our lives. If we fail to heed what we know and what the Holy Spirit has revealed to us, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to grow in knowledge and understanding.
Tenth, we must accept all of the Scripture and not write off any passages because we think science, psychology, or some other lesser source of knowledge seems to indicate that we should. In the long run, the Scripture always will prove itself to be right even if we don’t understand how in the short term.