Q — What is the best way to approach Bible study? Should you pick a theme or just study chapter by chapter?

A — I warm to this question because ideally all Christians should be attending to the study of the holy Scriptures on a regular basis. So, congratulations on asking a very fine question! Needless to say, there is no one way to approach the study of the Bible. I know people who have begun with the Book of Genesis and read their way through to the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. I am also aware of adults who tell me they don’t know where to start because the Bible is in so many ways opaque to them — the history, geographical names, strange expressions, and sometimes even the very names of the books.

At least initially, I would not choose a theme or a book, studying the book chapter by chapter. The best way to begin would be to tackle the Sunday readings in the Liturgy of the Word. There is usually a thematic connection between the Old Testament reading, normally the first reading, and the reading from the Gospel. In between both there is of course the Psalm response and the second reading, most often from the letters of St. Paul. So, sit down with these readings, going through them slowly and carefully, with a notebook. Before using any study guide or aid, note the questions that occur to you from your careful reading of the text. Then approach the notes that are provided in a study Bible such as The Catholic Study Bible. Along with the notes that elucidate particular verses, read also the introductions to the individual books from which the Sunday readings are taken. These are really excellent. They provide background information, context, and theological insight in a very accessible form. Alongside a study Bible I would also strongly recommend, especially for the beginning student of the Bible, two very helpful and straightforward introductions, both by Etienne Charpentier: How to Read the Old Testament and How to Read the New Testament. Although they were both first published in 1981, they seem to me very good places to start a deeper study of the Bible. If you approach your biblical study in this fashion, through careful attention to the Sunday readings, I think you will find your appreciation of the Liturgy of the Word enriched and deepened, and your appetite for further biblical study will be whetted. Bon appétit!