June 01, 2023

Is There a Difference between Studying the Bible and Reading It Devotionally?

Nathan W. Bingham & Joel Kim
Is There a Difference between Studying the Bible and Reading It Devotionally?

There are many different methods of studying the Bible, each with their own unique learning objectives. Today, Joel Kim emphasizes the value of engaging with the Word of God.


Nathan W. Bingham: Today on the Ask Ligonier podcast, I’m joined by Joel Kim. He’s the president and assistant professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Reverend Kim, is there a difference between studying the Bible and reading it devotionally?

Rev. Joel Kim: Well, let me begin by saying you should do both. It’s sometimes nice to articulate and divide different ways that we approach the Word, but sometimes the methodological consideration might prevent us from actually doing the work. And so, my guess is that my audience here, they don’t need the reminder, but just as a reminder to myself as well: whatever form it takes, engaging the Word is probably the most important thing.

I think the answer to that question would be a yes and a no. Maybe, I guess, is perhaps a better answer. Yes, in the sense that meditational reading of the Word is personal in nature, and it seeks to have breadth in terms of coverage, whereas the study of the Word seeks depth and then comprehension of the text using many of the tools that you’ll find necessary for reading the Word. But I’m not exactly sure that they can be necessarily separated.

Many read devotionally, while at the same time understanding it as deeply as they can. Many read deeply, while at the same time having personal effect and desire. You can’t read the Word and study the Word without a doxological end. That is, you can’t read the Word without leading to worship, and you can’t worship without the Word, in the sense that you have to have content in the person whom you worship, and the way we worship is also guided by the very person as well. So, we recognize that they are tied together.

I think part of this is just—the way personally I apply this—is that oftentimes I read the Word simply for reflection upon it, to ask the question, What does the text reveal about God, and what does that mean for me, whether it be my belief or how I live my life?

At the same time, reading the Word in depth allows me to study the context of the text, to study the context of the passage, to study the passage in terms of what we often refer to as the grammatical-historical reading of the text. That is, how do we understand the individual words, phrases, and sentences, and paragraphs, as well as the book and the canon so that we get the full story of not only a particular passage but the story of God that’s found in Genesis all the way through Revelation. Connecting those things, studying those things with a deep study is also an encourager to our souls.

And so here, I think the simple answer to that is, yes, some distinctions can be made in practice, but the encouragement is to do both: the depth of insight into the Word as well as meditative reading of the Word for personal understanding and benefit. At the end, “Read the Word,” I think, is the ultimate encouragement one can make.