Okay, so now you’re all ready to go. You’ve got your highlighters and your pens, you’ve worked out your color scheme, and gone ahead and marked down some basic cross-references in your New Testament (and hopefully remembered to also mark the return references in your OT). Now it’s time to pick out your first book to study.
For your first book, you’ll want to pick something relatively small so that you can quickly enjoy the sense of accomplishment. You’ll also want it to be something that you’ll enjoy, something that both engages you in its flow and challenges you with its depths . . .
Okay, seriously, why are you already back in Revelation?
For those first starting out on this kind of journey, I should add that you’ll want to start with something that is relatively well-explored and understood. Revelation, as much as I love it, can easily lead to letting one’s speculations overtake one’s foundational theology. If you think that you can do a survey of Revelation, just looking up it’s hundreds of references to the rest of the prophecies of the Scripture and taking the time to study each of those in their own context, that’s fine, and very educational. But it also is the kind of thing that can take years to fully explore. Like I said, you want to start with something that you can finish before you get discouraged.
The books of Ruth, Jonah and the Gospel of Mark are good places to start, having both a simple surface-level narrative that you can enjoy, a few historical nuances that you can enjoy digging into, and deeper prophetic/spiritual meanings that the Spirit (and a few good commentaries) will illuminate for you if you’re willing. The shorter epistles are also a good place to start, with 1 John being my favourite to steer new students towards. You can take the Psalms just one at a time, though I advise using them for breaks rather than trying to do the whole book at a go.
Before you start the first verse, get a few of your study Bibles and Bible handbooks (e.g., Halley’s) together and read the introductory notes to the book. This is what I call “setting the stage.” Just like the props on the stage of a play help you to set the characters’ words and actions into context, the historical backdrop of a book of the Bible and some knowledge of its author, how it fits with other books of the Bible, and literary features and structure help you put the words of that book into context.
Jot down those “props” into the whitespace around the book title, obviously being brief. jump ahead and make a few short notes at specific verses that you’ll come across and remember what you learned later (often weeks later). Add your own chapter and title headings. Add cross-references that you discover from the introductions (you’ll be adding more later as you go) with the intent of using them as you come across them later. Don’t go overboard. Remember, “setting the stage” is all you want at this point.
Once you’ve completed that, try to sit down with the book and just read it through in a sitting–two or three if you ignored my advice and picked a long one. You’re not doing the close reading we talked about earlier; you just want to do a quick read-through to get a feel for the book. (This technique is handy for all kinds of study, btw, not just Bible study. Kids, take note!)
Now that you’ve finished all that in your first couple of Bible study sessions, you’re ready to actually work through verse-by-verse.